The week in higher education – 13 June 2019

The good, the bad and the offbeat: the academy through the lens of the world’s media

June 13, 2019
Cartoon 13 June 2019

After 37 years as a professor at Emory University, a 94-year-old member of its faculty has finally been granted tenure. But this tenure award was probably not the life-changing moment it is for most recipients – the individual in question is a former US president, Jimmy Carter. He lectures about once a month in subjects ranging from religion and public health to political science and history, the Atlanta institution said. Mr Carter, a Georgia native, “joined the university as a professor in 1982, just over a year after leaving the White House,” the Associated Press reported on 4 June. Times have changed: it’s fair to assume that if the current White House incumbent joins Mr Carter in the ranks of one-term presidents, he won’t be rushing to do anything scholarly with his spare time.

Students at the University of Sydney are fighting to press the institution to remove a statue of the renowned explorer William Wentworth because, they claim, he was a “known racist”, the Daily Mail reported on 5 June. The “Wentworth Must Fall” campaign also calls for the university’s Wentworth building to be renamed after an Indigenous warrior in a bid to “decolonise” the institution. Writing in the student newspaper Honi Soit, students Himath Siriniwasa and Georgia Mantle said the campaign was “a process of historical rediscovery”. But others have attacked the premise. “Rewriting history is ignorance, if you try to whitewash out history how do you correct it?” Mr Wentworth’s great-great-great-grandson Stephen Wentworth told Australia’s Daily Telegraph. Whatever the outcome, it certainly won’t be the last time that students and scholars argue over the presence of a monument from campus.

The Queen’s Birthday Honours, announced on 7 June, saw figures from UK higher education recognised. Nigel Carrington, vice-chancellor of the University of the Arts London, was knighted. He joined the university as vice-chancellor in 2008, after a career in law and business, including a spell as managing director of the McLaren Formula One racing team. Others knighted include Robert Williams, vice-chancellor of Swansea University between 1994 and 2003. There were CBEs for three other vice-chancellors: Staffordshire University’s Liz Barnes, Lancaster University’s Mark Smith and Coventry University’s John Latham. And there was also a CBE for Anna Vignoles, professor of education at the University of Cambridge, as well as OBEs for Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter and former chief executive of the Sutton Trust, and Kevin Fong, honorary senior lecturer in physiology at UCL.

The UK government will find every opportunity it can to sing the praises of its official development assistance funded projects, the £735 million Newton Fund being one. But a report this week by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact raised questions about the fund, The Times reported on 7 June. Under the International Development Act 2002, Newton Fund activities must aim to reduce poverty and further sustainable development in the country where research is undertaken. But the ICAI said there was “reason to doubt” that its funded projects complied with the rules. In one example, £99,000 of funding was given to a Brazilian student to examine the work of the Roman intellectual Cicero. Another £110,000 was given to fund a biography of the Boer leader Paul Kruger. The report found “that almost none of the grants examined were providing strong benefits to institutions in poorer nations beyond enhancing the university careers of individual students”, the newspaper said.

It’s been a bad start to the beginning of UK Pride celebrations, after the University of Edinburgh’s entire staff Pride Network Committee resigned, prompted by what it claimed were “the university’s attempts to censor its opposition to a feminist meeting”, The Guardian reported on 6 June. After a meeting on campus this week, the writer and feminist Julie Bindel said she had been verbally abused and “lunged at”, allegedly by a transgender activist. The staff committee accused the university of “failing to take a stand against transphobic hate on campus”, claiming that concerns raised ahead of the event had been ignored. Co-chair Rosie Russell told the newspaper: “We had concerns that panel members had a history of animus toward trans women, and it looked to be very one-sided. At no point did we ask the university to cancel the event. We support freedom of speech.” Ms Bindel’s alleged attacker denies any violent intent.

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