The week in higher education - 10 October 2013

October 10, 2013
  • Freshers’ Week might have put a dent in its alcohol stocks, but Leeds University Union wasn’t counting on a delivery of 4,000 bottles of Jägermeister. The consignment, which is enough for 112,000 Jägerbombs (nearly five for every undergraduate on campus), took bar staff by surprise as they had expected their regular order of 240 bottles, Leeds Student reported on 4 October. The unexpected order is believed to have been caused by a mix-up between the union and suppliers. “Something’s gone terribly wrong,” said bar and venues manager Steve Keeble, who added that the union is “not going to be running out of Jägermeister” any time soon.
  • Adultery and defamation were some of misdemeanours the University of Cambridge presided over 500 years ago, The Times reported on 4 October. Documents dating from between 1540 and the 1630s reveal that the university adjudicated on several scandals, including the case of St Catharine’s don John Dighton, who sued the college’s butler for calling him a “turd in the teeth” - a common insult of the period. Papers also show how in 1595 William Covell, a fellow of Queens’ College, was accused of having an affair with Bridget Edmunds, a married woman. Covell was “blusteringe and blowe-ing verie much and afterwards verie redd in the face” according to Mrs Edmunds’ maid, while his mistress was “bare ledgged…havinge her petticate not laced”. The court of the vice-chancellor ordered Mrs Edmunds to dress in a white sheet outside a church for three successive Sundays to publicly acknowledge her infidelity. Vice- chancellors often complain their jobs are harder than ever, but they might spare a thought for their medieval counterparts adjudicating on various town and gown scandals.
  • A De Montfort University academic has been deselected as a Labour Party candidate after he was filmed boasting how he would “dance on the grave” of Baroness Thatcher, The Daily Telegraph reported on 7 October. Chris Herriot, senior lecturer in youth and community development, was set to contest a council seat in Newport until his anti-Thatcher speech appeared on YouTube, the paper said. In the film, shot shortly after the former Tory leader’s death, Mr Herriot starts an address to a meeting of Socialist Appeal by saying “The bitch is dead” and that he wanted to “revel in the moment”. The former miner has been deselected by Labour, which claimed he had failed to declare his past membership of Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party.
  • Academics have been accused of wasting £8.1 million of taxpayers’ cash by pursuing “doubtful” research projects, The Times reported on 7 October. Among the Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded projects highlighted is a £184,000 study by an Edge Hill University scholar on how to keep pubescent boys singing in choirs and a £34,000 investigation into the role of philosophy in construction firms, which found that Aristotle was the most useful thinker for builders. A £107,000 scheme to teach Egyptology in prisons and build an online archive of artefacts for inmates was also singled out in the report by the self-appointed “public spending watchdog” the TaxPayers’ Alliance - a noted bastion of free thought and intellectual enquiry. Maybe a study into the mysterious backers of the rent-a-quote lobby group, which does not disclose details of its income or donors, would be a better use of public funds.
  • David Willetts remains as universities and science minister after this week’s reshuffle passed peacefully over his head. His survival will be generally welcomed by senior figures in the sector. But in Labour’s own reshuffle, also on 7 October, shadow universities and science minister Shabana Mahmood was moved to the shadow Treasury team. Liam “there’s no money left” Byrne, demoted from shadow work and pensions secretary, replaces her. Tristram Hunt, a historian who teaches at Queen Mary, University of London, becomes shadow secretary of state for education. Dr Hunt is a biographer of Engels, teaches “Marx, Engels and the Making of Marxism” at Queen Mary and now plans to mould young minds. He wants to watch himself - that CV is a red rag to the Daily Mail.

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