John Spencer was appointed Professor of Social Administration in 1967 and became head of the school of Social Study in 1968. He had previously held posts at London School of Economics, Manchester University and the University of Toronto. In the 1950s he was also the Director of the Bristol Social Project, funded by the Carnegie Trust and concerned with the problems of family and urban sociology. While in London he was also a magistrate.
His research interests included homosexuality, family life, working mothers, mental health, religion, addiction, adoption and the rehabilitation of offenders. He was heavily involved in a working party to explore the operation of the Social Work (Scotland) Act in 1968.