The week in higher education - 19 February 2015

February 19, 2015
  • A university is to end its use of lifelike prosthetic masks to train nurses over fears that they stigmatised people with mental health problems, the Aberdeen Press and Journal reported on 16 February. Tutors at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen had worn the rubber masks, featured in Hollywood blockbusters, to act the parts of characters with illnesses such as dementia and alcohol addiction in role-playing exercises, the newspaper said. But the university is set to withdraw the use of disguises after complaints that the masks – complete with tattoos, scars and bulbous noses – looked like something out of a horror movie and may fuel negative stereotyping of those with mental health issues. “With the benefit of hindsight some of the images have been upsetting,” said Ian Murray, head of Robert Gordon’s nursing school.
  • A study into the “perfect posterior” for women was one of several bottom-related research stories to rear their heads in the national press. Apparently men are attracted not only by women’s prominent buttocks but also by the curvature of their spine, with the most attractive angle measured at 45.5 degrees, The Sunday Telegraph revealed on 15 February. That study by psychologists at Bilkent University, the University of Texas at Austin and the American University of Beirut follows The Guardian’s report on 10 February into the welter of research papers covering Pippa Middleton’s much-publicised behind. The latest contribution has appeared in the journal Celebrity Studies and contrasts the Freudian view of the fetishisation of Ms Middleton’s rump with a Marxian one – a study that joins other bottom-scraping papers on Ms Middleton’s posterior, such as the 2011 work “And bringing up the rear: Pippa Middleton, her derrière and celebrity”. The Guardian also helpfully included a picture of the famous rear from the 2011 royal wedding alongside the piece – one of four female bottoms to appear on its education page, with the other three purporting to illustrate a story about student finance.
  • Those hoping that the flood of Richard III stories might subside two years on from his body’s discovery are set to be disappointed. With one publisher, Amberley, releasing five new books on the Plantagenet king this year, expect to hear even more about the University of Leicester’s 2013 archaeological find. The saga will continue next month when Richard III’s bones are reinterred at Leicester Cathedral, and drag on into next year when Benedict Cumberbatch appears as the hunchback king in the BBC’s Hollow Crown series.
  • Unusual teaching methods in medical schools in centuries past have been revealed by historians, The Times reported on 16 February. With corpses scarce, instructors resorted to “cadaver sharing”, which saw dead bodies chopped up and divided between students so they could all investigate it before it decomposed, the paper said. “They might have a knee one day, an elbow another,” explained Jenna Dittmar, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge, who has studied 750 bodies dating from 1600 to 1900 to investigate practices of dissection. Science was asset-sharing and doing more with less centuries before policymakers hit on the ideas.
  • A full-length nude portrait of a University of Cambridge academic has continued to cause a stir almost a year after it was unveiled. The painting of Victoria Bateman, an economics fellow at Gonville and Caius College, began a heated debate about the sexualised depiction of women in May last year, but it is now at the centre of an unfair dismissal lawsuit, the Daily Mail reported on 17 February. A tribunal at which City lawyer Margaret Rowe challenged Fidelity Worldwide Investment for unfair dismissal from her £184,000-a-year job, heard that James Bateman, head of portfolio management, showed the full-frontal picture of Dr Bateman, his wife, to junior female colleagues. “Many people found the picture awkward,” Ms Rowe told the employment tribunal, saying that the women “did not know how to react or not to react”. Ms Rowe claims the incident was part of a “chauvinistic” culture at Fidelity, which the firm denies, saying that the painting of Dr Bateman was meant as a “challenge against the objectification of women”. The tribunal continues.
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