The week in higher education – 22 September 2016

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

September 22, 2016
The week in higher education cartoon (22 September 2016)

Researchers can often feel the pressures of a “publish or perish” culture. But for five Russian scientists working at a weather station on Troynoy, an island north of Siberia, it was an even more pressurised case of scare away a pack of hungry polar bears or perish. The researchers had been encircled by 10 adult bears and some cubs, reported The Guardian on 14 September, citing Russian news agency TASS. A nearby ship was able to reach the island and supply the scientists with dogs and flares to scare off the bears, according to the Sevgidromet state monitoring network that owns the station. Yelena Novikova, a spokeswoman for Sevgidromet, said that the bears’ aggressive behaviour was related to climate change and the ongoing reduction in sea ice, meaning the animals had been unable to reach other islands to find food.

Theresa May, the UK’s prime minister, has attacked universities over safe spaces. “We want our universities not just to be places of learning but to be places where there can be open debate which is challenged and people can get involved in that,” she said during Prime Minister’s Questions on 14 September, The Daily Telegraph reported. “I think everybody is finding this concept of safe spaces quite extraordinary, frankly. We want to see that innovation of thought taking place in our universities. That’s how we develop as a country, as a society and as an economy.” Some in the sector may argue that the potential impact on universities arising from Brexit – about which Ms May is yet to offer such detailed public comment – is a more pressing priority for the prime minister.

The singer Adele has told fans that she is “desperate to go to university”, with Harvard University her dream destination. “I know that sounds ridiculous but it’s one thing I really plan on doing,” she said at a concert in Boston last week, The Sun reported on 18 September under the headline “Someone like uni”. She continued: “I was about to start university in Liverpool in England and then I got offered a record deal, so I was like, ‘Ugh, what do I do?’ Obviously I took the record deal, which I don’t regret at all.” She added: “I want to go and do a tour of Harvard but I don’t want anyone thinking I’m smart enough to go to Harvard.” If Adele does need any favours to get in, rumour has it that Ivy League institutions will bend entry requirements to say hello to a super wealthy or well-connected applicant.

More news this week on the legacy of Robert Morin, the frugal University of New Hampshire librarian who amassed $4 million (£3 million) and left it to his former employer after his death. Of the $4 million, just $100,000 was earmarked for the Dimond Library, while $1 million will be spent on a video scoreboard at the university’s Wildcat Stadium. Critics on social media have launched scathing attacks on the spending decisions, Inside Higher Ed reported on 15 September. UNH graduate Claire Cortese wrote in a blog post: “Ultimately, the school’s administrative decision to spend a quarter of Morin’s generous donation on [an] inconsequential trinket for the athletic department is a complete disgrace to the spirit and memory of Robert Morin.” University officials have stressed that Mr Morin became an avid football fan towards the end of his life, but what started out as a heart-warming story seems to have exploded into a fable on US higher education’s amenities arms race.

If Donald Trump does become US president, he will start off as leader of the free world by facing a court case to decide whether his for-profit university was a fraud. A federal judge in San Diego denied Mr Trump’s request for a five-week delay to a trial to determine whether the now-defunct Trump University defrauded customers, The Guardian reported on 15 September. Gonzalo Curiel – the US-born judge whom Mr Trump has described as “Mexican” – ruled that the trial will begin on 28 November, as previously scheduled. Mr Trump’s attorneys had asked to delay the trial to 2 January because he must be in Los Angeles on 15 November for another trial. The presidential election takes place on 8 November.

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