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Roger Johnson

(Elected 2009)

Dr Roger Johnson becomes a Fellow of Birkbeck after 23 years as Dean of Social Science, responsible for the departments of Computer Science and Information Systems, Economics, Mathematics and Statistics, Geography and Management and Organizational Psychology. Having received a PhD in Computer Science from Birkbeck in 1974, Roger worked for a large software house, before moving to the University of Greenwich and returning to Birkbeck in 1983, becoming Reader in Computer Science in 1993. He is a past President of both the British Computer Society and the Council of European Professional Informatics Societies, and has been Honorary Secretary for the International Federation for Information Processing since 1999.

Roger’s research interests are in two areas, computer history and temporal information management, which is finding ways to make it easier to process data, such as climate data, where the same information, such as temperature, is recorded at regular time intervals. He was the first person to book a flight with British Airways via the world wide web in 1996, to Madrid, and to celebrate, he and his wife were taken to the airport in a stretch limousine complete with champagne. His teaching responsibilities have included Director of Undergraduate Studies and teaching the Social Implications of Computing MSc course, focusing on the impact of computers on society.

'I have enjoyed most of my time as Dean,' says Roger. 'Deans are re-appointed every five years after consultation by the Master with the staff in the Faculty.
I am immensely honoured that my close colleagues entrusted me to run the Faculty on our collective behalf for almost a quarter of a century. The practical power of a Dean is limited by the authority your colleagues are willing to give you.'

Roger particularly remembers his first day at Birkbeck as a full-time PhD student, on 1 January 1970, under Professor Peter King, who became a College Fellow in 2009. 'My recollection of that day is going along to Registry to complete the transfer from Aberystwyth to be told that I wasn't expected and to come back the following day.'

He also recalls a meeting of the senior management on the Monday after the collapse of Barings Bank in 1995 after the bank’s employee, Nick Leeson, lost £827 million. 'We were told by a slightly flustered Master that all the College short term cash reserves were at Barings. Fortunately we got it all back after a couple of weeks!'

Roger says he has been 'hugely impressed by so many Birkbeck students' over the years, 'especially those who have overcome all manner of life's mishaps to complete their courses. I remember the delight all her lecturers felt when we saw one of our students graduating whose husband had suddenly walked out in her first year, leaving her with their two small children and a relative's two other children. Academics pitched in to help her arrange childcare and pick up the pieces. Not in the academic job description but very much Birkbeck!'

He continues: 'Birkbeck is a very special place for us all. It changed and shaped my life. It is something Londoners have valued since 1823 and which collectively we must ensure carries on for the next 190 years. To be part of the College's senior management team for over 20 years, never knowing what challenge lay around the corner, has been an enormous privilege and an occasional adrenalin rush! I wish my successors good luck and every success.'