The week in higher education – 17 March 2016

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

March 17, 2016
The week in higher education cartoon (17 March 2016)

An anti-European Union student group has been offering free condoms branded with slogans themed around the “in-or-out” debate, The Guardian reported on 10 March. Two different slogans – “the safer choice” and “it’s riskier to stay in” – are being provided by Students for Britain to help them engage with students on campus ahead of the historic 23 June referendum on the UK's membership of the EU. “It does make it a bit more fun,” said Tom Harwood from Durham University. “Once we start that conversation and we’ve engaged someone in rational argument, then we’re far more likely to do better,” he claimed.

A bronze cockerel looted from an African palace more than a century ago has been removed from a University of Cambridge college after authorities “bowed to pressure” by activists, the Daily Mail reported on 10 March. In the latest row over Oxbridge’s colonialist past, Jesus College has agreed to permanently remove the sculpture – snatched by machine gun-happy British invaders during the bloody destruction of Benin City in 1897 – from its dining room, the Mail reported. It follows a student campaign to highlight what Jesus College called the “complex question of the rightful location” of the cockerel, known as the Okukor. “Where will the political correctness end?” bemoaned various media critics, but few will have predicted the intervention of the charity People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which used the story to demand that Jesus College “learn from the mistakes of the past” and ban chicken from its menus, replacing it with a delicious vegan-friendly substitute.

A University of Manchester professor has quit after his secret life as a porn star was revealed, Metro reported on 14 March. Nicholas Goddard, a 61-year-old who lectures in chemical engineering, appeared unrepentant when he was unmasked this month by The Sun as the adult film star “Old Nick”, whose online movies have been viewed by more a million people. Professor Goddard, dubbed “The Smutty Professor”, said that it was “hypocrisy” for “people [to be] watching porn then complaining about those who act in it” and claimed that he knew that “75 per cent of web traffic on the university’s server [during evenings and weekends] is accessing porn”. But a Manchester spokesman told Metro that Professor Goddard had “resigned from his position at the university with effect from April 1 2016”. The remainder of his teaching and supervision duties will be taken by colleagues in the interim period, he added.

The University of Leicester has clearly not lost the imaginative PR streak shown in its Richard III heyday. According to a zany experiment set up by geology students, Leicester City’s fans literally made the earth shake while celebrating a stoppage-time goal by Leonardo Ulloa against Norwich City. Sensors set up near the club’s King Power stadium picked up tremors equivalent to a minor earthquake with a magnitude of 0.3, BBC News reported  on 8 March. “It says something about the nature of football, it’s so tense and then we get four or five seconds of unexpected magic,” said Paul Denton, a seismologist from the British Geological Survey. The scientists have now labelled the phenomenon the “Vardy Quake” after Leicester’s top scorer, Jamie Vardy, even though it was Ulloa who scored the goal in question. But a bit of artistic licence never goes amiss when it comes to PR.

The first female president of Cornell University has died aged 52 just a few weeks after revealing that she was battling colon cancer. News of the death of Elizabeth Garrett, who was inaugurated as the Ivy League institution’s president in September 2015, broke on 8 March, which was International Women’s Day. Professor Garrett, who died on 6 March, was described by Robert Harrison, chairman of Cornell’s board of trustees, as a  “remarkable human being – a vibrant and passionate leader who devoted her life to the pursuit of knowledge and public service and had a profound, positive impact on the many lives that she touched”. In an interview with Times Higher Education in 2014 while she was provost of the University of Southern California, Professor Garrett said she hoped that her trailblazing example would inspire students and staff alike. “It is important for women and men to see strong and capable women in positions of leadership, so we understand that certain characteristics such as gender and race do not determine how well people do in those offices,” she said.

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