Speech for Professor Stephen Levine’s 50th Anniversary

Posted by Claire Timperley on 1st Jul 2022

I could not be more honoured to have the chance to speak about someone who – as evidenced by the previous speeches – has not only made immense contributions to the study of political science over the past 50 years, but also personally touched a great many individuals and enriched their lives in immeasurable ways. 

I first properly met Professor Levine in 2005 through attending an election lecture series that, if I remember correctly, consisted of lectures by Jon Johansson, Nigel Roberts, Claire Robinson, Elizabeth McLeay and Stephen Levine. Though when I say *I* attended, Stephen would likely be the first to suggest that some crucial information is missing from my story. For, though I did attend, it was alongside my parents who I had dragged along because none of my friends seemed quite as keen on New Zealand politics as I was! My parents and I were, by all accounts, avid participants in this lecture series, making quite an impression on Stephen I believe, given the fact that ever since this meeting he has commented on the Timperley family’s attendance at those seminars and our mutual interest in political affairs. 

This background is by way of giving context for two highlights of my career, both of which are attributable to Stephen. The first was his invitation to join him in presenting a lecture series on the 2016 US election. It was the greatest honour to move from watching him sharing his expertise at the front of the lecture theatre in 2005 to sharing that lecture podium with him in 2016. 

The second was his invitation to write a chapter for his 2017 post-election book series. After receiving the invitation, I remember calling my parents in great excitement (for, even now, they are still my political science buddies!) that I had been asked to contribute to the very book series that I had devoured and looked up to as an undergraduate and Honours student in this programme. 

These are but two small examples of the ways that Stephen has touched my life – he has been one of my greatest advocates, he continues to serve as my mentor, and, without a doubt, I would not only not be here tonight if it wasn’t for him, but I’m not sure I would be at the university if it wasn’t for his support. 

Beyond my own personal reasons for wanting to laud Stephen tonight, however, as noted by the other speakers, I want to recognise his outstanding contributions to the Political Science and International Relations Programme, to the University, and to New Zealand politics in general. There are few who could claim to have made such an impression on the study of politics of this country. 

But what stands out to me about Stephen, perhaps above all else, is his commitment to his students. He told me last week that a student from his very first year of teaching as a graduate student at the University of Florida is still in touch with him. My jaw dropped: how many of us could make the same claim in 10 years’ time, let alone over 50?! But this is not a one off occurrence. I know Stephen maintains contact with a great many of his former students, and those standing in this room today would also, I suspect, all testify to the immense impact Stephen has had on their life trajectory. 

Stephen himself has signalled that students have remained front and centre in his work. In the epigraph to his lauded 2017 post-election volume, Stardust and Substance, he dedicates the volume “To our most splendid students”. It is therefore fitting that, in honour of his great contributions to the University, the Stephen Levine Prize has been established. This prize will recognise exceptional undergraduate and postgraduate students in areas related to Stephen’s research interests, including: political leadership, electoral systems, voting behaviour, legislative behaviour, African politics, politics and sport, politics and the arts, and counterfactuals in political discussion. 

As with many of the prizes in our programme, this prize both recognises and celebrates our outstanding students, but it also recognises and celebrates the unparallelled contributions of the colleagues and individuals these prizes are named after. The Stephen Levine Prize is the perfect acknowledgement of an individual who cares deeply about the subject and its students.