The week in higher education – 2 April 2015

April 2, 2015
  • A protest has been staged at the University of Bolton in response to the dismissal of two employees last month for allegedly leaking information to the press. Students, staff and union representatives gathered on 30 March to demand the reinstatement of Damien and Jennifer Markey, the Bolton News reported. Both deny leaking information and Times Higher Education has confirmed that neither was a source for a story about expensive staff awaydays to the Lake District published in THE last month. A university spokesman told the local paper that the protest “was poor with only one actual member of staff present and half a dozen students”. A picture published alongside the story showed about 30 people taking part. A petition calling for the Markeys’ reinstatement had, as THE went to press, more than 1,600 signatories. The university has said it is “comfortable that procedures have been followed” with regard to the dismissals. The university also confirmed that pro vice-chancellor Rob Campbell had “retired” in response to the University and College Union’s saying that a pro vice-chancellor had left at “short notice in unknown circumstances”.
  • Imperial College London is to undertake a review of how it uses performance metrics after the death of one of its academics. The recommendation follows an internal report ordered in the wake of the death last year of Stefan Grimm, formerly professor of toxicology in the Faculty of Medicine. The academic had been told that he was “struggling to fulfil the metrics” of a professorial post at the institution, and that he was under an “informal review process”. In a letter sent to Imperial staff last week, provost James Stirling says that “competition and excellence make Imperial a highly demanding place” but “we have a duty of care” to all staff. Seven recommendations put forward by the internal report have been accepted by Imperial.
  • A cunning plan to slip a large number of papers past a journal’s quality gatekeepers would have worked if it hadn’t been for those pesky kids at BioMed Central. Retraction Watch reported on 26 March that the open access publisher was retracting 43 papers by China-based authors after discovering that the contact details of suggested peer reviewers were fake. In a blog, Elizabeth Moylan, senior editor for research integrity at BMC, says that some of the culprits were “third-party agencies offering language-editing and submission assistance”, who also guaranteed “favourable peer review outcomes”, although it is unclear whether the fake details were submitted by the agencies – possibly unbeknownst to the authors – or by the authors themselves. Either way, the problem is getting bigger: the total number of retractions for fake peer review in the past year is 170, according to Retraction Watch.
  • Harvard University is teaching its students about football, the Daily Telegraph reported on 30 March. But the course will not address the finer points of the offside rule or the merits of 4-4-2, the paper says. The module in romance studies, titled The Global Game: Soccer, Politics and Popular Culture, will instead use football as a “window onto some of the most pressing questions posed by the humanities”. “We use Sophocles’ tragedies and concepts from Aristotle to make sense of the rise and fall of Diego Maradona,” explained Mariano Siskind, the course’s creator. How the Argentine’s “Hand of God” goal or cocaine addiction might relate to the work of the Greek scholars will surely make for some stimulating seminars.
  • Students at one of North Korea’s top universities do not know that the internet exists and struggle to identify world landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, the Daily Mail reported on 30 March. Suki Kim, a Korean-American journalist, spent two terms undercover at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology teaching English. Her book Without You, There is No Us reveals that material for lessons had to be approved by a shadowy body known as “the counterparts”, and students were forced to wear lapel pins featuring the face of Kim Il-Sung – the country’s founder and first president, who is viewed as immortal. “It was really a gulag, nothing else. It is the most inhuman thing, controlling people with fear,” she said.
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