The week in higher education – 19 November 2015

The good, the bad and the offbeat: the academy through the lens of the national press

November 19, 2015
The week in higher education cartoon (19 November 2015)

Boris Johnson’s flippant and hyperbolic remarks on all sorts of matters are normally greeted with laughter, endearing him to many as a humorous antidote to today’s grey, identikit politicians. But that style wasn’t probably the best to adopt ahead of a visit to the West Bank, where his dismissal of “corduroy-jacketed…snaggle-toothed…lefty academics” behind the boycott of Israeli goods was seen as grossly offensive. The London mayor’s itinerary of events was “severely curtailed” by his hosts, with one Palestinian youth group withdrawing its invitation over the “inaccurate, misinformed and disrespectful remarks” regarding the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement, The Guardian reported on 12 November. Mr Johnson was informed that his security might be at risk if his engagements went ahead, although the mayor blamed the furore on Twitter rather than his own ill-advised quip.

The Daily Mail’s exposé of the “shameless greed of university fat cats” was billed as a “major investigation”, but its “shocking revelations” had a familiar ring for Times Higher Education readers. Not least the bombshell that departing London Metropolitan University vice-chancellor Malcolm Gillies was paid in excess of £600,000 in his final year – a story broken by THE nine months ago. News of Neil Gorman’s bumper final year at Nottingham Trent University – in which he was paid £623,000 in 2013-14, including bonuses worth £250,000 – is also well known as it was first reported in March. Indeed, much of the detail about the “exorbitant pay” of university top brass reported on 12 November was previously included in our 2015 pay survey published in April. Bizarrely, the Mail’s investigation was “based on thousands of freedom of information requests”, claiming it was a “stark illustration” for the need for such laws. But the imperilled information act – now under review – will have been done few favours by the Mail story because the information obtained via FoI was already available in universities’ public accounts and also THE.

Eating substantial amounts of garlic may make men more attractive to women, scientists claim. The unlikely aphrodisiac was discovered by researchers at the University of Stirling and Charles University in Prague, who found that the armpit sweat of male garlic eaters was judged by women to be more sweet-smelling than that of men who had avoided the cloves, The Daily Telegraph reported on 11 November. The antibacterial action of the garlic might explain the seductive smell, with garlic reducing the density of microbes present in armpit sweat. The effect on sweat, however, kicks in only after ingesting at least four cloves – with scientists confirming that the resultant garlic breath was definitely still a turn-off for women.

Barack Obama has praised student protesters whose stand against racism at the University of Missouri led to the resignation of the institution’s president, The Guardian reported on 16 November. “I think it is entirely appropriate for students in a thoughtful, peaceful way to protest what they see as injustices or inattention to serious problems in their midst,” the US president told ABC News. His intervention came as college president Tim Wolfe and chancellor R. Bowen Loftin announced that they would leave at the end of the year amid pressure from faculty and students over their lack of a response to incidents of racial abuse on campus, including comments directed at student president Payton Head. “I want an activist student body just like I want an activist citizenry,” stated Mr Obama, who said that he would “rather see them err on the side of activism than being passive”.

A London School of Economics graduate and several students were killed in the series of coordinated terror attacks in Paris. Valentin Ribet, who studied law at the LSE, was among the first victims to be named, with his alma mater stating: “Our hearts are filled with sadness at this news,” the Daily Mail reported on 14 November. The 26-year-old Frenchman, who had been working in the Paris office of international law firm Hogan Lovells, was one of about 90 people killed when gunmen opened fire into the crowd at the Bataclan concert hall. Valeria Solesin, a 28-year-old Italian PhD student, was also gunned down at the Bataclan while standing at the entrance of the venue with her boyfriend and older sister, The Guardian reported on 16 November. Ms Solesin was writing a PhD in demography at the Panthéon-Sorbonne University – Paris 1, the paper said. US exchange student Nohemi Gonzalez, 23, from California, who was studying at the Strate College of Design in Paris, was killed in one of the restaurant attacks – one of at least 129 known victims of the atrocity.

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