News in brief

July 15, 2010

Academic freedom

'Chilling' libel case delayed

A libel case in the French courts widely seen as a threat to academic freedom has been postponed until next year. The case was brought by Karin Calvo-Goller, senior lecturer at the Academic Centre of Law and Business in Israel, after she took exception to a critical review of her book, The Trial Proceedings of the International Criminal Court (2006), in the European Journal of International Law (EJIL). Dr Calvo-Goller asked for it to be removed from the journal's website and then sued for libel, claiming that the review could damage her career. The editor-in-chief of the EJIL, Joseph Weiler, European Union Jean Monnet professor of law at New York University, refused to comply. Defending his decision in an editorial, he wrote that Dr Calvo-Goller's actions could have a "chilling effect on editorial discretion, freedom of speech and the very important academic institution of book reviewing". The hearing, due to take place last month, has been postponed until January 2011.


Restructuring claims dismissed

Claims that the University of Leeds bypassed its senate when it restructured a faculty have been dismissed. In February, the University and College Union petitioned the Leeds "visitor", Lord Mandelson, over changes to the Faculty of Biological Sciences that required academics to reapply for their jobs. The restructure has been on hold since then. But Sir Roy Beldam, the retired judge who ruled on the matter, decided that the senate had not been compromised by the decision to entrust the restructure to the university's Faculty Management Group. The visitor system governs internal complaints in universities.

Knowledge transfer

Giants team up to defeat cancer

Two UK-based research giants have put rivalry to one side in an attempt to speed up work on effective cancer treatments. Cancer Research Technology (CRT) and Medical Research Council Technology have signed a memorandum of understanding to swap medical discoveries. They will offer each other the right to manage, develop and license their research discoveries in a bid to share their intellectual property rights for the greater good. The duo will also share any revenue from the arrangement, agreed on a case-by-case basis. Phil L'Huillier, director of business management at CRT, said it was a "small move in the right direction" towards traversing the hurdles of competition in the research sector. "Those petty debates can be quite difficult to get through," he said. "This is about saying: 'We can work together.'"


Final call for 'exam howlers'

As the examination season winds down, Times Higher Education is making a final call for entries to its annual "exam howlers" competition. Entries last year included a student who spent an entire biology paper writing about the science of gnomes rather than genomes, another whose commentary on a medieval French poem claimed that "all of the sentences end in a coma", and a third who interpreted the passage in King Lear, "thou madest thy daughters thy mothers; for ... thou gavest them the rod and puttest down thine own breeches", as meaning that "King Lear pulled down his trousers and gave his daughters the rod". The closing date is 29 July and the winner will receive a magnum of champagne.

Send your "exam howlers" to:


Last week's suggestion by Sir John Beringer, former pro vice-chancellor for research at the University of Bristol, that university departments should replace at least 10 per cent of their senior academics every year to make room for younger researchers sparked debate. One reader writes: "This is madness. Simple arithmetic indicates that if this were followed through, we would all be sacked by 50. And what would be the incentive for a young, thrusting researcher if they knew that they would be taken behind the woodshed as soon as their edge wore off?"


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