The week in higher education – 10 December 2015

The good, the bad and the offbeat: the academy through the lens of the national press

December 10, 2015
The week in higher education cartoon (10 December 2015)

“My name is Shachar Rabinovitch and I’m from Israel. I’m doing an assessment for school about horses, and it will be great if you can answer a few questions that I ask.” So ran the email from a 13-year-old girl, asking questions about horses in ancient history, to Marsha Levine, a former fellow and senior research associate in the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge. Dr Levine’s reply ran: “I’ll answer your questions when there is peace and justice for Palestinians in Palestine.” Ms Levine described herself as a member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians and a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. She added: “You might be a child, but if you are old enough to write to me, you are old enough to learn about Israeli history and how it has impacted on the lives of Palestinian people…Maybe your family has the same views as I do, but I doubt it.” The exchange was reported by the Daily Mail on 1 December after being posted on Facebook by the girl’s father.

When the president of a Christian university makes a speech to his students and it results in his being accused of aiding Islamic militants by the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, something has gone awry. Jerry Falwell Jr’s speech at Liberty University calling for more students to carry guns fell victim to this mishap. “I’ve always thought if more good people had concealed carry [gun] permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in,” said Dr Falwell. He told the approximately 10,000 students attending his convocation speech that he’s had a permit for more than year” and “reached around seemingly to fetch” his gun during his address, The Guardian reported on 6 December. Although Dr Falwell later clarified that he was referring to terrorists, rather than all Muslims, Hillary Clinton said it was the kind of remark that would give “aid and comfort to Islamic State and other radical jihadists”.

Dr Falwell was not the only president of a US Christian institution to make the news this week. Comments by Everett Piper, head of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, went viral online after he criticised a “self-absorbed and narcissistic” generation of students and told them “to grow up”. Dr Piper’s essay appeared on the university’s website under the title "This is Not a Day Care. It's a University!" It was published “as student protests sweep across America over racial tensions and requests for ‘safe spaces’ for students”, The Daily Telegraph reported on 1 December. Dr Piper wrote: “Any time their feelings are hurt, they are the victims. Anyone who dares challenge them and, thus, makes them ‘feel bad’ about themselves, is a ‘hater’, a ‘bigot’, an ‘oppressor’ and a ‘victimizer’.” Vox said Dr Piper’s opposition to trends on other campuses was unsurprising, given that he leads a conservative institution that “refuses to hire gay faculty or staff”.

De Montfort University “is lobbying high-profile figures in Leicester in order to get its vice-chancellor Dominic Shellard on the Queen's birthday honours list”, the Leicester Mercury reported on 2 December. The newspaper said that a confidential letter signed by Ben Browne, chief operating officer, was sent to MPs and other public figures in Leicester last month seeking support to nominate Professor Shellard for his “outstanding” time in charge. The letter says the vice-chancellor was not aware of the attempt to nominate him. Although the existence of lobbying for vice-chancellors over honours is by no means a revelation, such nominations were usually “not done by the organisation the person comes from”, said one recipient of the letter. Professor Shellard may be embarrassed by the attempts to push him forward for acclaim, but De Montfort staff may want to consult Debrett’s now to see how they should address him if any honour is bestowed.

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