The week in higher education – 24 November 2016

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

November 24, 2016
The week in higher education cartoon (24 November 2016)
With apologies to Matt Groening

After predicting the Trump presidency some 16 years ago, what other lessons might The Simpsons teach humanity? The answer is "quite a lot", according to a lecturer at the University of Glasgow who is offering a crash course on philosophy taught through the popular US cartoon series, the Independent reported on 16 November. “Matt Groening, the man behind The Simpsons, was a student of philosophy, and that comes through in each episode,” said John Donaldson on his new course, “D’oh! The Simpsons Introduce Philosophy”. Describing the show as “one of the modern world’s greatest cultural artefacts partly because it is so full of philosophy”, Dr Donaldson said that “Aristotle, Kant, Marx, Camus and many other great thinkers’ ideas are represented in what is arguably the purest of philosophical forms: the comic cartoon”.

Student halls of residence are not known for the lavish entertainment on offer, which usually consists of a beaten-up pool table or a TV poked away in a gloomy common room. But swish new student accommodation in Glasgow is seeking to change this by providing a karaoke room, cinema and café serving protein shakes, Metro reported on 17 November. The most eye-catching part of the new £40 million True Student Living building is, however, a theme park-style slide linking the first floor and ground floor. The twisting slide “enables students to get to the ground floor in style once that important paper is complete”, said the company, who hoped it would become a “talking point”. Due to open in September 2017, the new student complex also boasts flat screen TVs and touchpad "rainfall" showers in every room – a world away from the dingy rooms inhabited by most students in recent years.

Having your mum hanging around on campus would probably horrify most students. That wasn’t the case for Coventry University student Azara Queen, who claims she was delighted that her mother Diane has studied the same degree as her over the past three years, Huffington Post reported on 17 November. “She wanted to do criminology and I wanted to do psychology so we combined our interests so we could study together,” said Azara, 26, who will graduate with her mother this week. Not only did Azara and Diane, 49, take the same course, but the self-proclaimed “best friends” also lived, revised and hit nightclubs together during their degree, as well as doing the same part-time job at a mental health care home. The mother-and-daughter team are not to be separated just yet as they are now taking a master’s in psychology together. “The next step is convincing her to study for a PhD with me,” joked Azara.

Despite agreeing to pay $25 million (£20.2 million) to settle Trump University lawsuits, the US president-elect was unapologetic about his failed business school. “The ONLY bad thing about winning the Presidency is that I did not have the time to go through a long but winning trial on Trump U. Too bad!” tweeted The Donald on 19 November as he laid to rest the litigation that dogged his presidential campaign for months, Fortune reported on 20 November. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who led part of the lawsuit that sought $40 million in damages for students who paid up to $35,000 for advice from so-called property experts “handpicked” by the real estate tycoon, said Trump’s settlement was a “stunning reversal...and a major victory for the more than 6,000 victims of his fraudulent university”. Strangely, Trump’s experience running a "university" actually puts him in good company with some distinguished US presidents: Woodrow Wilson and Dwight D. Eisenhower led Princeton and Columbia respectively before entering the Oval Office, although that is where similarities with the new president seem to end.

A university hackathon has produced an algorithm that can highlight fake news on Facebook, BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat reported on 17 November. Amid fears that a deluge of dodgy news stories may have swung the US presidential election for Donald Trump, four students at Princeton University have managed to create a program that can weed out fake news sites, Newsbeat said. The task, which was set for a university computer programming competition, took them just 36 hours, thereby “solving” a problem that has apparently been delegated to dozens of tech wizards at Facebook headquarters. "Facebook said the problem was too big to fix but we wanted to see if we could do it,” said Anant Goel, one of the team members. Having apparently solved of the big challenges of post-truth politics – albeit too late for defeated Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton – the students have now turned their attention elsewhere, namely their mid-term exams, which take place this week.

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