The week in higher education - 13 April 2017

The good, the bad and the offbeat: the academy through the lens of the world’s media

April 13, 2017
The week in higher education cartoon (13 April 2017)

Students at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government have started a four-week course in “anti-Trump activism”. The course is open to people around the country and the world, with Kennedy School lecturers among those leading classes and organisers hoping to train activists “to strengthen the skills they need to take collective action and effectively resist the Trump agenda”, the CNN website reported on 3 April. The course website lists sessions with titles such as “How to Communicate our Values in Political Advocacy” and “How to Structure and Build Capacity for Action”. The Harvard Crimson reported that the group has likened itself to “Dumbledore’s Army – the covert group from the Harry Potter series dedicated to battling Voldemort”. None of which sounds like it will be fostering communication with swing voters in Michigan or Wisconsin.

“Why do University Challenge contestants go viral?” the BBC News website asked on 10 April. “The invention of social media has given the programme a new lease of life and helped many contestants develop their own cult following,” it suggested. The BBC’s list of those to “go viral” included Eric Monkman of Wolfson College, Cambridge (popular on Twitter for his “facial expressions and tendency to deliver answers with an upward inflection”); Bobby Seagull of Emmanuel College, Cambridge; Gail Trimble of Corpus Christi College, Oxford (seen as “the smartest ever contestant”); and Oscar Powell of Peterhouse, Cambridge (who “looks a little bit like Michael Gove” and “had one of the most animated human faces in the history of human faces”). Eccentricity or perceived nerdishness is clearly a winning quality when combined with Oxbridge cachet.

Italy and Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini has picked up a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Turin. Mr Chiellini, who used his unrivalled expertise in digging in for some catenaccio defence to persist academically, posted pictures of the graduation ceremony on Instagram accompanied by the message: “Until the end. This motto accompanies me on the pitch and supported me during these years on the books. Glad I graduated!” The 32-year-old’s dissertation was on “The Business Model of Juventus Football Club in an International Context”, reported the Daily Mail on 7 April. Reading his thesis would be more interesting than watching Serie A, where Juventus are heading for their sixth championship in a row.

Gadget-savvy students will no doubt be used to seeing teachers struggle with technology while delivering a lecture. That expectation may have helped Matthew Weathers, a maths and computer science lecturer at Biola University in Los Angeles, to deliver an impressive April Fool’s Day prank. In a video of the stunt, Mr Weathers is seen using a projector for a lecture when he suddenly finds there is an immovable smudge on his screen, the International Business Times reported. He tries searching the internet for help and suddenly up pops a video of himself giving advice. Clever editing skills lead to the virtual Mr Weathers trying various ways to lend a hand, including “wiping” the screen with a digital cat, before he successfully lends his real-life version a Star Wars lightsaber to “cut” it out. The video has so far gained more than 2 million views on YouTube, but has a little way to go to match a similar prank he ran in 2015: that clip has more than 15 million hits.

Students losing valuables on a big night out may be par for the course, but one of the winners of the 2017 Oxford-Cambridge boat race can probably be forgiven for dropping his medal in the Thames in the victory celebrations. Oxford oarsman Ollie Cook lost the trinket as he splashed about in the river after his crew defeated Cambridge, The Daily Telegraph reported. Luckily Hamish Roots, a photographer who had been working at the race and who knew the Cook family, spotted the medal at the river’s edge the next morning after it was washed up by the tide, and returned the medal to the rower’s parents. “It was as if it was meant to be,” said Mr Roots of his find. “It already had a bit of silt on it, was beginning to be obscured, if I'd left it another day or two it would have been covered completely unless someone else had pilfered it.”

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