The week in higher education – 16 June 2016

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

June 16, 2016
The week in higher education cartoon (16 June 2016)

“Passions run high as a plucky band of Cornish townsfolk stand up against a powerful local employer.” Not the storyline for the next BBC series of Poldark, but maybe a plausible description of the modern-day drama unfolding in Falmouth, where more than 150 residents took to the town’s streets to protest against plans to expand student numbers. Falmouth residents told how they were being “swamped” by undergraduates from Falmouth University and the University of Exeter’s Penryn campus, with student numbers due to rise from 5,000 to 7,500 by 2020, the Daily Mail reported on 7 June. “The locals have been evicted out and students are paying higher rents to stay in family homes,” said Kate Thomas, chair of the Save Our Falmouth Group – perhaps filling the local champion role played by Aidan Turner in the 18th-century costume drama filmed not far from the picturesque Cornish port.

Joe Biden, the US vice-president, has condemned a sexual assault “culture” on college campuses in an open letter to an assault victim at Stanford University, BBC News online reported on 9 June. Published by BuzzFeed, the letter by Mr Biden said that he was “filled with furious anger” over what happened to the woman, whose message to her assailant has gone viral. “You were failed by a culture on our college campuses where one in five women is sexually assaulted – year after year after year,” wrote Mr Biden. It follows fury at the six-month jail term handed to Brock Turner, 23, who was convicted of assault on the unconscious student, with more than 1 million people signing a petition to recall the “lenient” sentence. Meanwhile, the resignation of feminist professor Sara Ahmed from Goldsmiths, University of London, over its “failure to address the problem of sexual harassment” also hit the headlines. The professor of race and culture studies claimed to know of six inquiries into four members of staff whose actions were unknown owing to confidential clauses used to “protect organisational reputation” and “often the harassers”. Goldsmiths said that it had investigated all allegations of sexual harassment and takes “the strongest action against those found to be committing it”, The Times reported on 9 June.

Jo Johnson, the pro-Remain universities minister, has unveiled a secret weapon in his fight to keep the UK in the European Union. Shortly after a speech at Universities UK’s headquarters in London on 9 June, he took part in a demonstration of a Star Trek-style laser gun, which was used to pop balloons marked with the words “Brexit”. “Bursting the Brexit bluster bubble”, tweeted Mr Johnson to his 12,500 followers, alongside a short video of the high-tech destruction of the balloons. The stunt brought to mind some of the more wacky photocalls by his brother, Boris, who might have fancied deploying the contraption on his hostile female opponents in the ITV referendum debate that took place later that evening.

Having clinched the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump may have hoped the row over his so-called university would soon disappear. But the billionaire’s wish has not been granted, with Trump University gaining more headlines than ever. Not long after Mr Trump claimed a Latino federal judge handling a Trump University case was biased against him owing to his heritage, the senior Republican Paul Ryan described the remark as “the textbook definition of a racist comment”, The New York Times reported on 7 June. Eric Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general, also used an article in the New York Daily News on 9 June to compare the tycoon to the original 19th-century snake-oil salesman, “Rattlesnake King” Clark Stanley. Having faced more than 1,500 lawsuits in his career, Mr Trump may not lose much sleep over the numerous legal actions against Trump University, but the sheer volume of stories emerging may soon start to worry his campaign team.

A Canadian university has paid hackers C$20,000 (£11,000) to reverse the damage caused by a cyberattack, BBC News online reported on 8 June. The University of Calgary transferred the sum in bitcoins to the hackers after it was unable to restore access to data rendered the “digital equivalent of gibberish”. The payout could, however, encourage further blackmail attempts, said security expert Steven Murdoch, from University College London. Paying out  “might be the only way they can get their data back, but that makes it worse for everyone else because it encourages more people to set up schemes like [this]”, said Dr Murdoch. The attack follows a warning by Intel that “ransomware” infections are becoming increasingly common, with universities often targeted by cybercriminals.

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