Some sex, no drugs, but rock 'n' roll

December 22, 2006

Mandy Garner sifts through replies to our lifestyle survey and finds that the film noir-watching political animal of yesteryear has morphed somewhat

Six per cent of academics admit to having had an affair with a colleague or student that they subsequently thought might have compromised their professional standing, according to a Times Higher lifestyle survey.

One says he had an affair with a mature student "but only after I had finished teaching her. We married not long afterwards. This was nearly 15 years ago, we are still together and have two children." Susan Bassnett, pro vice-chancellor at Warwick University, says she has never had a relationship with a colleague or student, and adds wistfully: "Too late to start now, but have I missed anything?"

Our survey also shows that, far from the stuffy image of yesteryear, academics are down with the kids. They overwhelmingly know how to operate an MP3 player - 78 per cent are au fait with the tiny music data box, although Peter Knight, vice-chancellor of the University of Central England, touchingly asks "what's an MP3 player?" Many have also been in a band. Kevin Fong, senior lecturer in physiology at University College London, was in a band as a sixthformer and says "our style could best be described as 'bad'". Bassnett was a folk singer and Mark Griffiths, professor of gambling studies at Nottingham Trent University, was lead singer with a covers band called The Vinyl Solution, singing Police, Black Sabbath and David Bowie songs. Raphael Salkie, professor of language studies at Brighton University, was in a string quartet. And if you thought most academics were likely to admit only to watching obscure film noir, think again. Comedy is rated the top genre and films such as Bridget Jones' Diary , the Lord of the Rings trilogy among the favourites, although top is that old perennial Casablanca .

And yet, despite the rock-star credentials (13 per cent are still in a band), 20 per cent admit to owning a tweed jacket and most are quite abstemious when it comes to alcohol and drugs. Only 7 per cent drink more than the recommended alcohol levels a week. Of those questioned about drugs, several are very firm in their anti-drug stance.

Salkie says: "Only idiots take drugs." Knight's only comment is "aspirin is as exciting as it ever got" and Fong says he has never taken anything "any self-respecting member of the academic community would refer to as a proper recreational drug". Greg Walker, professor of English at Leicester University, adds that he has not taken any drugs "since I learnt to inhale".

But one historian who responds "I was an undergraduate in 1968 - what do you think?" suggests that other academics of his era may be being economical with the truth.

Of the more than 200 academics who took part in the survey, 81 per cent work full time; 72 per cent on permanent contracts. Thirty-seven per cent are under 30, and 5 per cent over 55. Some 60 per cent say their parents did not go to university.

Most respondents say they are single with no dependants, and women outnumber men by 55 to 45 per cent, reflecting the growing number of women entering academia, if not making their way to the top. Most fit the classic AB marketing profile - 59 per cent, for example, own their own house. Driving is the favoured way of getting to work, although 31 per cent do not own a car. One owns a Porsche and another admits to a Mercedes-Benz - are they vice-chancellors or among the 13 per cent who say they work as consultants on the side? However, Ford is the make of choice.

Sixty-one per cent of respondents buy organic, and many recycle or make other efforts to reduce global warming. Bassnett says she is "fanatical" about recycling and turning off lights. Fong recycles, has stopped putting gizmos on stand-by and is trying to take fewer flights. Only 19 per cent wear a suit, with most opting for smart casual, ranging from Fong's jeans and T-shirt to Bassnett's "Italian designer wear, Gap tops, Hermes scent and necklaces collected from around the world".

Sixty five per cent do no paid work in addition to their academic job, but 42 per cent make time for voluntary work, 17 per cent at least once a month. Some 57 per cent are members of a sporting club, although some may be there more in an armchair capacity than an athletic one, with 8 per cent being members of football clubs. And, as if they do not read enough in their professional lives, 13 per cent have joined book clubs. Politics is still of interest, although only 56 per cent call themselves political. Sixteen per cent say they are religious.

History and biography are the most popular forms of fun reading, although 30 per cent say they read academic journals to relax. Travel, mystery and cookery books are also high on the reading lists. Knight admits to reading Jeremy Clarkson for fun - although he does list building and flying light aircraft as hobbies.

For some, relaxation is hard work. Although most get a good night's sleep, 16 per cent say they get less than six hours a night. Rock music is overwhelmingly the favourite among academics - 79 per cent listen to it - although 42 per cent say they regularly tune into classical music. The type of rock music listened to ranges from chart music to, in the case of Greg Walker, something called Norwegian death-folk. Griffiths combines leisure reading with music. He has read every issue of NME , Record Collector , Mojo , Q and The Word and owns three iPods. Could the professor of gambling studies, an expert in other types of addiction, be secretly hooked on music?

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