Noreen Burrows

When I first came to work at Glasgow, what was then the Faculty of Law was very fragmented. Offices were scattered about and the Faculty was composed of small departments sometimes following different agendas. The Department of European Law consisted of myself, Dr Balekian and a half of a secretary. We offered a second year course and a full honours programme consisting of 4 honours papers and a general paper. There were a lot of teaching hours but class sizes were much smaller and so the marking burden was not so great. There were no other lawyers in the building where my office was located in Southpark Avenue as it was owned by the Sociology Department. Next door were offices of the international lawyers and jurisprudence. I hadn't a clue how anything operated and no one explained anything. A lot of the staff were Glasgow graduates so they knew how things worked and so you picked up things as you went along.

There were a number of women on the staff when I joined the University. Esin Orucu, Elpseth Attwooll, Sheila McLean, Elizabeth Crawford, Pat Lucie, Esmee Shapiro - so I was not out of place. The senior administrator, Mrs Wilson reigned over everything with charm and kindness. The secretarial staff, all women in those days, were attached to departments. Next door in Jurisprudence was the wonderful Grace Campbell. She helped me enormously when my son was born, coming with me when he had his jabs because I was too squeamish to go on my own. Famously she fought, and won, her case in the European Court of Human Rights to have corporal punishment banned from Scottish schools. So in my experience Glasgow Law School has always been populated with dynamic women.

I was appointed to the Chair of European Law in 1990 and shortly after became Head of the School of Law. The School had been created in response to the former Department of Accountancy establishing itself as the School of Financial Studies but we were still made up of small departments. The first RAE had been disastrous for law - not surprising as each department had done a separate submission - and the University effectively put us on notice. As Head I pushed through the amalgamation of departments, streamlined the administration and in return the School was given a quarter of a million to help improve research. On advice from Tom Mullen (who always gave good advice) I invested some of that funding into appointing a computer manager. She oversaw buying computers for all staff and trained us to use such things as email. That investment revolutionised our work and improved communication between staff although many members of staff were still opposed to the single departmental structure.

I found being Head of Department challenging and at one stage suffered from severe depression. Sir William Kerr Fraser, then Principal, was very supportive. I am glad that people now can perhaps be more open about mental health but then it was not something that people discussed.

I had become involved in University HR matters through being asked to sit on the secretarial regrading committee. Paul Grey, still a good friend, thought it would be useful to have someone from law on the committee and it was an amazing management training experience. No two departments in the University were run in the same way. A secretary in one department had very extensive responsibilities as against another in a different department and grading was far from uniform.

Following on that I was asked to sit on the equalities committee which I subsequently chaired. I really enjoyed trying to put into practice the principles of non-discrimination I was teaching and writing about. We wrote the original equality policies and tried to get the University to implement in full its public sector duties. A group of us began to call ourselves 'the scary women' and really tried to make a difference in our respective spheres. With Jean Chandler I volunteered the University as a guinea pig for the EOC trial of its equal pay project, trying to refine methodology to be used to identify issues of unequal pay and the gender pay gap. We had pages and pages and files and files of statistics and attended and spoke at many events. Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer instituted a prize for the person who had done most to advance equal pay and I was nominated and shortlisted. I did not win the prize but it was the one and only time I have been inside No 10 Downing Street.

It terms of my own career I feel privileged to have been part of the University of Glasgow. I served two terms as Dean, first as Dean of the Faculty of Law and Financial Studies and then as Dean of the Faculty of Law, Business and Social Sciences. Part of the duties of Dean is to attend the Commemoration Day Service in the Chapel where the Principal reads out the names of the benefactors of the University including over its 500 years of history. Kerr Fraser was the best at reading the names but it is humbling to understand that you are part of an institution that has been devoted to education for such a long time and is cherished by so many people. I highly recommend attendance!

Women in the law are human beings, juggling their lives in law, personal lives, families and friends and health, just as in any other walk of life. It is essential that they are there to bring a female perspective.

Women in the law, in academia and in practice are also underpaid! Men can support them by opening up the debate about pay and openly sharing information about their income. Without transparency there will be no equal pay.


Noreen Burrows graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1974. She then went on to undertake a PhD on the UN Commission on the Status of Women before being appointed as a lecturer at the University of Leicester and then as Lecturer in EU law at Glasgow in 1979. She became one of the first female Professors of Law at the University of Glasgow, when she was appointed the Jean Monnet Professor of European Law in 1990. Due to her efforts to increase equality in the profession she was awarded an OBE in 2011.

Her publications span a wide range of research interests including books and articles on Scottish devolution, the role of the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice and European Social Law. Her research interests are in European Union law, particularly social law and discrimination and women’s rights.