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Jennifer Jackson

Colleagues will be sorry to learn of the death, on 4 September 2022, of Jennifer Jackson, former Senior Lecturer in the (then) Department of Philosophy for more than forty years, and founding Director of the Centre for Business and Professional Ethics, aged 82. The following tribute has been contributed by Professor Chris Megone, friend and former colleague.

Jennifer was born in Scotland in 1939 the daughter of Reginald and Clara Jackson. Reginald Jackson taught philosophy at St Andrew’s and Edinburgh Universities. He had met Clara at Queen’s University in Canada. So, following Reginald’s early death, when Jennifer was still very young, Clara took her and her brother back to Canada. Here she experienced the bulk of her schooling, and then went on to Queen’s University herself, studying Philosophy as a major, with a minor in Ancient Greek.

Whilst at Queen’s she had the opportunity to take up a scholarship for a year as a visiting student at St Andrew’s. The significance of this year for Jennifer can be gauged from her answer to a question at the interviewing committee. Asked whether she would be visiting as a Scot or a Canadian, she immediately replied: “As a Scot”.

Jennifer subsequently went on to undertake a D Phil at Oxford, working with William Kneale, the White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy, on a dissertation in ethics. However in 1966 at least two posts in Philosophy were advertised at Leeds and Jennifer obtained one of them, taking up her position in January 1967. Also appointed at that time was Christopher Coope, whom she would marry in due course.

For most of her time in the Department at Leeds Jennifer was the only woman, but initially Catherine Berry was also in the Department with her. On her arrival Peter Geach had recently taken up the Chair in Philosophy. The Department was somewhat fractured owing to differences between rival schools of Wittgensteinians, but Jennifer avoided any involvement in this as her main interests were in Ethics and Greek Philosophy.

Jennifer’s major contribution to the Department and the University began in 1989 when she set about the process of founding the Centre for Business and Professional Ethics (CBPE). With some initial seed-corn funding she undertook a visit to North America to speak to institutions in the US and Canada with already existing Centres in various areas of applied/practical ethics.

On return she formed a Centre with five constituent Departments -- Philosophy, Theology, Law, Business and Medicine. Each department paid an annual ‘subscription’ of £100, thus providing a princely annual budget for the Centre of £500.

Despite its limited material resources the Centre, under Jennifer’s leadership, organised well-attended inter-disciplinary discussion papers in term-time lunch hours (which then existed), as well as a set of Conferences on reproductive ethics (which resulted in published conference proceedings).

However the most significant initial activity fostered by the Centre was the MA in Biomedical and Healthcare Ethics. This MA, now in its 33rd year – and thus one of the longest running and most respected such MAs in the UK, was again Jennifer’s initiative. Jennifer gave a great deal of thought to the structure of the MA which was mainly aimed at practising professionals who attended for a day a week. Each day began with half an hour of informal discussion over ‘filter’ coffee (then still something of a luxury!). And Jennifer initiated the Ilkley Medical Ethics Colloquium, again mainly focused on bonding for the MA cohort – a day of philosophy and walking on Ilkley Moor. Jennifer also went on to supervise a good number of successful MA students for PhDs.

In 1991, when this MA began, there was one hour of formal teaching on medical ethics (a lecture on public health ethics) within the five year medical curriculum at Leeds. However on the back of the MA, and with support from Professors Richard Lilford and Jim Thornton, who represented the Medical School within the CBPE, Jennifer managed to get agreement to four half days on ethics in the third year of the medical curriculum from 1994 onwards. When the medical curriculum was completely revised in 1998, this initial involvement led to ethics becoming a theme throughout the five years of the new curriculum. Jennifer also contributed to GMC work which led to a requirement that ethics be part of the curriculum in all UK medical schools.

In addition to this work in medical ethics, Jennifer and the CBPE developed UG modules in areas such as business ethics, environmental ethics, media ethics, and ethics of sex and love.

Jennifer also engaged in early ‘impact’ activity running numerous half-day and day-long events in medical ethics for practising doctors and nurses, partly as an inherently valuable part of their professional CPD, and partly as a way of marketing the MA.

Due to the vagaries of early versions of the work-loading model, much of Jennifer’s work leading the CBPE had to be conducted before breakfast or after supper. Furthermore Jennifer had four children, but never had any maternity leave. However she still found the time to write three books, “Truth, Trust and Medicine”, “An Introduction to Business Ethics”, and “Ethics in Medicine” – perhaps the most significant of the three. In addition to that she published many articles, mainly in medical ethics. Her writings, notable for their lucidity, were always incisive, thought-provoking and engaging.

Despite all the activity of the CBPE under Jennifer’s leadership, the University funding model for Centres at that time meant that it had never managed to develop a reliable income stream, so that by 2003 when Jennifer stepped down from Directorship, the Centre’s future was bleak. However the national Centres of Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) Scheme of 2003 came to the rescue. All that had been learnt and achieved under Jennifer’s leadership was used in a successful bid for the development of the Inter-Disciplinary Ethics Applied (IDEA) CETL, now an internationally recognised Centre for Inter-Disciplinary Ethics, and a fitting legacy to all Jennifer did with the CBPE.

A recent book, “Metaphysical Animals”, records the work of four female philosophers in a predominantly male philosophical world, work which began in the early part of the C20th. Jennifer can be seen as a significant member of a second wave of ground-breaking female philosophers, all working in ethics, applied ethics and political philosophy, including among others Onora O’Neill, Sue Mendus, Brenda Almond, and Rosalind Hursthouse.  It can also now be seen clearly that through her perseverance and energy in a long career she had a major influence on the development of Philosophy at Leeds, and contributed to the re-establishment of applied ethics as a major part of the discipline nationally and internationally.

Jennifer was a good citizen within the life of the University throughout her time at Leeds. Her easy manner made her adept at building relationships across disciplines. In discussions of Departmental or University strategy, she never thrust herself forward, but was always a wise contributor to deliberations. Above all though, for those who were her colleagues, Jennifer will be remembered for her unfailing warmth, humour and kindness.