Over my dead body!

May 23, 2013

“I’ll murder you!” she screamed, stabbing at his heart with the blackboard pointer. “How dare you interfere with my 59!”

This is just one of the many disturbing incidents described by an assessment expert, Dr A.B. Tripos, at last week’s seminar on finals marking.

In this case, the co-marker’s life was saved by the mobile phone in his shirt pocket, but Dr Tripos described the incident as a “not atypical dispute” over the mark of 59.

His own research revealed two distinct camps. On the one hand were the numerical absolutists who used 59 to indicate a mark that, by its very nature, by its essential fifty-nine-ness, was utterly unchangeable. A 59 for such markers was a 59 by virtue of not being a 60.

On the other hand were the numerical relativists who regarded 59 as fundamentally malleable in that the mark of 60 was already immanent within its parameters. It was “strongly indicated”, “nearly there” or “on the edge”.

We should be grateful, concluded Dr Tripos, that the new emphasis on degree grades as an indicator of a university’s excellence had boosted the relativists to such an extent that they had now moved on to examining marks of 59 in case they contained the teeniest hints of a 70.


Nobody reads us and we don’t care

Brian Bryan, our Deputy Head of REF Strategy, was “deeply moved” by a letter in last week’s Times Higher Education from David Mead, professor of public law and UK human rights at the University of Essex.

In his missive, Professor Mead outlined the irrelevance of citations as a measure of research quality in the case of an academic who was “ploughing a relatively lonely research furrow”. In such instances, “the fact that no one else is relying on [this] work because no one else is interested in it (or has even heard of it) says nothing about whether it is good, bad or indifferent”.

So moved was Mr Bryan that he invited any Poppleton academic who felt that their research fitted these criteria to attend a special seminar where all attendees would be urged to boost research excellence framework ratings by extensively citing each other’s irrelevant, unknown and generally uninteresting work.

Mr Bryan described the seminar attendance of more than three-quarters of academic staff as “a triumph”. “It shows”, he told our reporter Keith Ponting (30), “that the REF’s emphasis on publication at all costs continues to encourage the wholesale production of irrelevant, unknown, uninteresting research. One can only imagine the overall gain in scholarship that will result from making such material available, through the medium of citations, to other scholars.”


Hidden depths

Man looking into toilet bowl

One of our more elderly dons, Professor Gordon Lapping of the Department of Media and Cultural Studies, has reacted strongly to news that a considerable portion of the cleaning in his department is being carried out by students employed on a part-time basis by the university’s cleaning service.

Lapping told The Poppletonian that the newly enforced intimacy with students that had been ushered in by the constant need to attend to “the student experience” was already an unwelcome development. But news that he might now be addressing a question about semiotics to a student who had only recently been peering into his toilet bowl suggested that “the democratisation of the academy had reached dangerous new levels”.


Thought for the week

(contributed by Jennifer Doubleday, Head of Personal Development)

“Next week’s seminar on recent advances in neuroscience will be given by a man whose head lights up as he talks.”


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