Cliff Snaith was born on 1 January 1958 and educated at Spalding Grammar School in Lincolnshire before going on to a BA in English and theology at the University of Hull (1976-79). He took a postgraduate certificate in education at what was then North Staffordshire Polytechnic (1983) and returned to Hull for a PhD (1983-86) on the Victorian novelist Mrs Humphry Ward.
After a period lecturing at Hull College of Further Education (1986-87) and teaching English at Hornsea School in North Humberside (1987-90), Dr Snaith decided to change direction. He headed back to the University of Hull to pursue a law degree (1990-93), worked briefly as a lecturer at Teesside University (1994) and then moved to the law school at the University of North London – which merged with London Guildhall University in 2002 to form London Metropolitan University – where he remained for the rest of his career.
A passionate believer in free education for all and in widening participation, which was a priority at London Met, Dr Snaith was always active in what is now the University and College Union. As branch secretary, he was often involved in disputes with a succession of vice-chancellors. After the controversy about the accuracy of data on student numbers under Brian Roper (2004-09), Dr Snaith was one of many staff who provided evidence to Sir David Melville’s independent investigation.
“Of all the submissions to the London Met review,” Sir David wrote after Dr Snaith’s death, “Cliff’s was the most comprehensive, embodied the deepest analysis and was the most helpful in enabling me to understand the complexities of the management and governance failures.”
A keen student of history, Dr Snaith had long planned a book about English monarchs (especially Henry VIII) and their influence on English law. Although this will never be completed, his colleague and fellow unionist Mark Campbell, senior lecturer in computing at London Met, remembered the fun they had comparing “our various v-cs and managements to failed Roman emperors and their ineffective senators”.
Paul Mackney, former general secretary of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (which merged with the Association of University Teachers to form the UCU), described Dr Snaith as “a model union representative” whose speeches “reinforce[d] with his whole body the contempt he was expressing with his voice. People remember that commitment and fury, but individuals also recall incredible acts of kindness and sensitivity to them personally.”
Dr Snaith died of cancer on 27 November and is survived by his partner, Rose Veitch.