The week in higher education – 15 September 2016

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

September 15, 2016
The week in higher education cartoon (15 September 2016)

A university librarian known for his frugal lifestyle has left $4 million (£3 million) to his former employer. Robert Morin, who worked at the University of New Hampshire for nearly five decades before his retirement in 2014, drove a modest 1992 Plymouth car and ate a simple cheese sandwich for lunch, The Washington Post reported on 7 September. But Morin, who was known for chatting to students while smoking a pipe outside the library, had managed to “amass millions”, according to a university press release, which said that his legacy would be used to fund scholarships, support library science education and a new video scoreboard for the college football team. “I think the feeling around here has been just kind of awe that someone who worked here pretty much their whole life…was so committed to this place and the students and really wanted to make a difference and provide the money to the university,” said a university spokeswoman.

Two judges have been dropped from the panel that selects the winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine in a scandal surrounding a transplant surgeon, BBC News online reported on 6 September. Harriet Wallberg and Anders Hamsten, two former heads of Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, were asked to step down from the prestigious panel over the hiring of Paolo Macchiarini amid claims that they had ignored warnings about the Italian windpipe specialist, the site said. Macchiarini was sacked earlier this year after the emergence of footage of his operations that the Karolinska Institute described as “truly alarming”, while he has also been accused of falsifying his CV, claims that he denies. It follows the Swedish government’s decision to sack the entire board of the institute over what higher education minister Helene Hellmark Knutsson called a “scandal”.

Having bleary-eyed freshers roll into class 30 minutes late can be a frustrating affair. But a university tutor in China has shown how not to handle tardy students after he was filmed slapping them across the face and kicking them, the Daily Mirror reported. The tutor, known only as Zheng, is also seen ordering the 18-year-old first-year students not to flinch as he wallops them, the paper said. The footage, apparently shot at the Shandong Rizhao Maritime Academy in China’s Rizhao City, has reportedly led to the suspension of Zheng, who was overseeing a two-week military training course.

Three cheers for Dame Eileen Atkins’ juror character in The Archers, who not only managed to acquit Helen Titchener but also made a passionate defence for UK universities in Europe. Playing the no-nonsense Jackie in the historic hour-long special of the long-running radio drama on 11 September, Atkins helped to convince her fellow jurors that Helen had good reason to knife her dastardly husband, Rob, leading to celebrations by BBC Radio 4 listeners across the land. However, before swinging the jury, Atkins’ character also held forth superbly on a range of subjects, including how Brexit might severely hamper UK universities’ ability to work with other institutions across Europe. Vice-chancellors will be hoping that universities minister Jo Johnson and other policymakers planning the UK’s exit from the European Union were listening to Jackie’s wise words.

The most famous graduate of the University of East Anglia’s creative writing course has turned his pen on his alma mater’s plans to build a car park and a rugby pitch on wildflower meadows. Booker prizewinning novelist Ian McEwan described plans to turn sports fields and wild grassland in the Yare Valley, near Norwich, into parking for 218 cars, a floodlit artificial turf rugby pitch, a clubhouse and bar, and 30 further sports pitches as “crude” and “thuggish”, The Guardian reported on 8 September. “Car parking and rugby have their place in the world of course, but not at the expense of an irreplaceable riverine ecology and gorgeous city resource,” said the Atonement author. The plans were also branded “deeply destructive” and “scandalous” by former poet laureate Andrew Motion, a former UEA professor of creative writing, who said “UEA…should be ashamed of themselves”. More than 2,500 people have signed a petition against the plans, which some staff say may damage the university’s reputation for environmental excellence. A UEA spokesman said that the university “recognises its responsibilities as a custodian of the valley” and had spent time protecting its biodiversity, while its development would be done in “a very sensitive way”.

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