The week in higher education – 18 July 2019

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

July 18, 2019
Week in HE cartoon

A Christian university in the US reportedly rescinded a job offer to an academic after complaints about the content of his recent novel, which, shock horror, contained such outlandish content as swearing, a lesbian character and a discussion of prostitution. The website Inside Higher Ed reported that T. J. Martinson was offered a role as assistant professor of English at Olivet Nazarene University only to be told later that he would not be allowed to teach (although he could keep his first year of salary). The scholar said in a Facebook post that The Reign of the Kingfisher had been out for two months at the time of the job offer but the university had “suddenly taken umbrage” after passages of the book were brought to its attention by a “constituent”. The college said in a statement that it “decided not to proceed with the appointment of T. J. Martinson as an assistant professor, which was scheduled to begin this fall”.


The Washington Post has shed light on the mysterious circumstances surrounding Donald Trump’s 1966 transfer from Fordham University to the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied at its Wharton business school. Mr Trump has said he went to “the hardest school to get into, the best school in the world”, calling it “super genius stuff”. James Nolan, the former admissions official at Penn who interviewed the future president, was a close friend of Mr Trump’s older brother, it emerged on 8 July. And he told the Post that getting into Penn then was “not very difficult”, adding that during the admissions interview “I certainly was not struck by any sense that I’m sitting before a genius. Certainly not a super genius.” Perhaps there are other cases of individuals who gained admission to prestigious universities through good fortune of one kind or another then rose to undeserved prominence by blinding others to their lack of merit using the dazzling magic of their degree certificate?


Thousands of people have signed a petition calling for Brexit Party MEP Ann Widdecombe to be stripped of her University of Birmingham honorary doctorate after her comments suggesting that science might one day “produce an answer” to being gay, the Birmingham Mail reported on 6 July. At the time of writing, about 25,000 people had signed the petition, which adds that the former Tory MP and minister’s comments were “incredibly hostile” to the LGBT+ community and did not “reflect the values of the university or of the university’s student body”. Labour peer Lord Adonis has also called for Ms Widdecombe, who holds an honorary degree from the University of Bath, too, to lose her awards for the comments, as well as for a speech in which she compared the UK’s decision to leave the European Union to slaves rising up against their owners.


“One of the female students targeted by a male ‘rape chat’ group at the University of Warwick has warned women and minorities that it is not a safe place to study,” The Guardian reported on 14 July. The woman told the newspaper: “I think that if you are a girl or if you’re a minority, if you’ve been through past traumas, knowing that your university is going to care for you is really important. I think right now Warwick haven’t proven their ability to do that.” Her comments followed an apology from Warwick earlier in the week, after an independent review found that the university’s handling of the case had generated a “legacy of mistrust” and that there had been “a profoundly unsatisfactory outcome for almost every single person involved”. The case relates to a Facebook “group chat” in which male students sent each other sexually violent messages about fellow female students, including racist comments and graphic descriptions of gang rape and genital mutilation.


Police in Greece have opened a murder investigation after the body of an American scientist working for a German research institute was found in a cave, following her disappearance while attending a conference on the island of Crete, the CNN website reported on 11 July. Suzanne Eaton, 59, was senior research group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, and professor at TU Dresden’s Biotechnology Center. She disappeared after going for a run on 2 July. “We are devastated by this senseless tragedy,” the Max Planck Society said in a statement. The society’s president, Martin Stratmann, had written a personal letter to Professor Eaton’s husband to pay tribute to her “as an outstanding scientist and a wonderful human being”, it added.

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