Andrew Skinner

(This is a revised version of the obituary that appeared in The Herald [Glasgow] on 30 November 2011 and draws on inputs from Sheila Dow, Fred Hay, Mary Skinner and Andrew Stevenson)

Professor Andrew Skinner FBA FRSE, who died on 22 November 2011, was a major authority in his academic speciality, the history of economic thought. He was also a key figure in the life of the University of Glasgow.

Born in Glasgow on 11 January 1935, Andrew Stewart Skinner was the second of four children of Andrew Paterson Skinner, a Highland-born sales executive with the National Cash Register Company. The younger Andrew’s mother, Isabella (née Bateman), was born in Ayrshire. Brought up near Glasgow, he was educated at Keil School in Dumbarton. He then entered Glasgow University, where he was a member of the Royal Naval Reserve and graduated MA with honours in Political Economy (economics) and Political Science in 1958. Andrew then held a Glasgow-Cornell Exchange Fellowship for a year, an experience he wryly referred to it as his BTA (Been to America). Postgraduate research gained him a BLitt from Glasgow in 1960. He was tutor and assistant lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast from 1959 to 1962 and a Lecturer at Queen’s College Dundee (at that time part of the University of St Andrews) between 1962 and 1964.

Andrew Skinner then began his meteoric rise in Glasgow’s Department of Political Economy (later Economics): lecturer from 1964, senior lecturer from 1970, reader from 1975, titular professor from 1977, Daniel Jack Professor from 1985 and Adam Smith Professor from 1994. He was a dedicated teacher, famed for coherent lectures in the classical style at all undergraduate levels. Andrew inspired students with his expertise, notably on the Age and Ideas of Adam Smith, which he taught even after his official retirement in 1997, and which was particularly popular with overseas students.

Andrew Skinner was devoted to his department (of which he was Head for some years), but he soon became a major academic leader beyond its boundaries. From 1980 to 1983, the difficult period of the ‘Thatcher cuts’ in universities, he served as Dean of Glasgow’s Faculty of Social Sciences, straddling the potential divide between his colleagues and the university authorities with great skill and style. For the next thirteen years he exercised highly influential university-wide leadership, first as Clerk of Senate (chief academic administrator) to 1990, then as vice principal for the arts-based faculties of the institution to 1996.

A defender of the University’s traditions, Andrew Skinner was also a force for constructive change, notably of the switch to devolved faculty-level management in the early 1990s. A problem solver by nature, he was a key if not always a deferential resource for successive Principals. Andrew was a genial colleague for other senior professors and an inspirational mentor to the deans who served under him. He also represented the University ably on a succession of Scottish university bodies. A product of the relatively stable Scottish university environment of the 1950s, Andrew played a significant role in enabling his ancient university to make a highly successful transition to the more rough-and- tumble higher education world of the late 20th century and beyond. Fittingly, Glasgow conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctor of the University in 2001.

In addition to his formidable teaching and administration, Andrew Skinner was a superb and highly productive scholar. He became a highly respected authority on the influential political economists of the Scottish Enlightenment, especially Sir James Steuart and that towering figure (and Glasgow professor) Adam Smith. He was a major force in Glasgow University’s highly successful commemoration of the 1976 bicentenary of Smith’s seminal work 'The Wealth of Nations'. That year he published an edition of it (with Roy Campbell and W B Todd) and, with Tom Wilson, edited 'The Market and the State: Essays in honour of Adam Smith'. Andrew also produced an edition of Steuart’s 'Principles of Political Economy' (1966) and, in 1979, wrote 'A System of Social Science: Papers relating to Adam Smith'. In 1982 he and Roy Campbell published a biography of Smith and a book of essays on the Scottish Enlightenment. Later, Andrew edited (with P Jones) 'Adam Smith Reviewed' (1992) and produced (with K Haakonssen) an 'Index to Smith’s Works' (2001). Also, Andrew published many articles and, though by instinct no globetrotter, travelled the world giving papers at conferences.

Economics was Andrew Skinner’s bedrock, his core academic identity, as he demonstrated when he published in the 1990s (with Fred Hay and Christine Oughton) a textbook on microeconomics. Yet like his great subject Smith Andrew was an economist, and a social scientist, of very broad interests, encompassing philosophy and history as well as economic theory and institutions. Again like Smith, and other key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, Andrew took an analytical historical approach which was fundamental to his understanding of theory and its development. In particular, Andrew identified the systematic nature of Smith’s approach to economics (the book title ‘System of Social Science’ indicating his focus on this aspect of the interpretation of Smith). Andrew Skinner’s work has had a profound influence on our understanding of Smith and his contemporaries as well as being pioneering in modern historiography. This work earned him tremendous respect in the international history of economic thought community. For his highly impressive research achievements Andrew was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1988 and of the British Academy in 1993.

This galaxy of accomplishments might suggest a workaholic. Yet Andrew Skinner never allowed his huge labours to overwhelm him. Devoid of pretension, he was quietly gregarious, an excellent companion in the staff club, at Senate dinners and over cups of coffee in his office. Andrew had a lively and irreverent sense of humour, which he shared with his wife, Mary, who survives him (as does his sister Patricia). Together they were generous hosts to colleagues and students in their house in a sylvan glen in Cardross, where they shared a passion for dogs and the garden. They refreshed themselves with occasional trips to Portugal and regular sojourns in their caravan in the Highlands.

Academic life depends for its vitality on individuals with keen intellects, wide sympathies, generous temperaments and outgoing personalities. Andrew Skinner brought all these qualities, as well as huge achievement, to economics, and to Glasgow University, over a period of almost sixty years. His discipline and his institution have lost one of the great academics of his time, but his influence endures.

Rick Trainor
Principal and Professor of Social History
King’s College London
Glasgow University 1979-2000

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