The week in higher education – 16 February 2017

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

February 16, 2017
Week in HE illustration (16 February 2017)

Forget drunken hooligans, stand-up comedians and knighthood-seeking footballers – there is a far more foul-mouthed group of individuals out there: academics. That was the suggestion made in a letter to The Times on 7 February, which singled out scholars as among those most likely to use coarse language, particularly in front of students. Responding to columnist Giles Coren’s defence of swearing on 4 February, the correspondent wrote that profanities are a “means of bullying and control”, which “explains why drill sergeants, celebrity chefs, university lecturers and drunken louts on trains” resort to such language. “Swearing is the lexical equivalent of the shaken fist, used by the more powerful as a means of intimidation against the less powerful,” he argued. However, one former lecturer, Charles Sandeman-Allen, felt compelled to defend his profession. Replying on 8 February, he said that he had “never once heard or used such language” as a student or academic. “What sort of university did [the author of the first letter] attend?” he wondered.


A student at the University of Cambridge has been ejected from its Conservative Association for trying to burn a £20 note in front of a homeless man, The Sun reported on 9 February. Ronald Coyne was expelled from the student group after footage of the incident was released, the paper said. It shows the Pembroke College law student, dressed in white tie and tails, attempting to set fire to the money outside a clothing store, where the rough sleeper was sheltered. Mr Coyne, a distant relative of Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, has not commented on the episode, which echoes the initiation ceremony at the Bullingdon Club, Oxford, for which recruits reportedly had to burn a £50 note in front of a beggar. However, the student’s mother, Sandra McLaughlin, said his behaviour was “surprising” as her son had volunteered at a charity shop for the homeless in Edinburgh for two years. “We’re just a normal family – we’re not toffs,” she added.


Higher education should not count on getting a special deal to mitigate the impact of Brexit, leaked documents show. According to a government “priority” list published by The Times on 10 February, education is regarded as a “low priority” in terms of the level of work needed to be done to assist the sector through the Brexit process. High priority industries are pharmaceuticals, car making, textiles and clothing, aerospace and air travel and “medium” priorities include electronics, fisheries and furniture. The UK’s education sector, whose exports are worth about £17.5 billion a year, are lumped in with steel construction, steel and gas and retail on the “low priority” list, suggesting Whitehall officials haven’t been won over by academics’ warnings about the disastrous effects that leaving the European Union may have on universities.


A University of Oxford graduate has accused his alma mater of “racial profiling” after his photo was sent to students warning them to “be vigilant” about intruders, the Huffington Post reported on 7 February. Femi Nylander criticised Harris Manchester College after his photo was sent to students following a late-night visit to a friend’s office, the site said. The alarm was raised after the 22-year-old politics, philosophy and economics graduate had accidentally walked into another academic’s office, but the Rhodes Must Fall activist said “there would definitely have been a different reaction” if he were not black. “You are more likely to walk through a college in a suit and tie than with an afro – your presence is an anomaly,” he said. Harris Manchester defended the move, saying “the email made clear that the individual in the photograph was not thought to present any danger, but we felt students should be aware of the matter”. “We have occasionally issued similar emails in the past when other unidentified people have entered the college,” it added.


The University of Glasgow is to launch a philosophy course based on Star Wars, The Scotsman reported on 9 February. Titled "Destiny, Justice and the Metaphysics of the Force", the open access course will explore some of the deeper issues posed by the blockbuster films, which have taken more than $7 billion at the box office. For instance, Star Wars characters, both good and bad, “seem to be governed to a large extent by the Force”, explained course director John Donaldson, who said it “directs their future, their destiny”. “We want to judge these characters morally, but on the other hand we seem to recognise that their actions are not entirely free,” he added, saying the sci-fi franchise could help to “introduce philosophical questions about free will and its link to moral responsibility”.

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