David Potter obituary

Other Lives: Political sciences lecturer who was in at the start of the Open University

My friend and former work colleague David Potter, who has died aged 88, was one of the pioneering group of academics who came together to create the Open University.

Joining the OU in 1970 when it had just been set up but had not yet taken on any students, he found the challenge of starting from scratch “tough and terrific but undoubtedly the best thing ever” – a sentiment no doubt shared by the many students who benefited from the university’s creation.

Eventually, during the 1980s, David was involved with a group of brilliant colleagues, including the cultural theorist Stuart Hall, in creating a social sciences foundation course at the OU that achieved near mythic status, even falling foul of the Thatcher administration, which made unfounded accusations of Marxist bias.

David was born in the US in Berkeley, California, to George Potter, a professor of English literature, and Mabel (nee Harrington), a pianist. After attending Midland school in Los Olivos in California he followed in his father’s footsteps and pursued an academic career, completing a master’s degree in political science at the University of California, Berkeley, and a PhD at the London School of Economics, where he met Jennifer Field, whom he married in 1960.

While he was subsequently teaching political science at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, academic life turned sour for David; he became involved in supporting colleagues who had been sacked for their political views, and then ended up being dismissed himself.

At this low ebb he returned to Britain in 1970, basing himself in Bedford and securing a job as a senior lecturer in political science at the Open University, where I worked with him. He spent more than a quarter of a century at the OU, rising to become a professor before his retirement in 1997, and during that time was able to continue his academic research into Indian public administration, which he had begun at Berkeley and which resulted in the publication of his 1986 book, India’s Political Administrators, 1919-1983.

Having roamed around the high sierras of California in his youth, in retirement David was able to enjoy walking in the pleasant, rolling Bedfordshire countryside. He also concentrated on the pleasures of music, wine, the company of friends and continuing his adventurous travels with Jennifer, which they had begun with a honeymoon driving overland to India.

He is survived by Jennifer, their children, Christopher, Jonathan, Alison and Rachel, and nine grandchildren.

Andrew Blowers

The GuardianTramp

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