The week in higher education - 29 January 2015

January 29, 2015
  • When cuts to academic pensions were first announced, many predicted a “winter of discontent” featuring strikes, marking boycotts and campus protests. But it seems the battle against reforms to the Universities Superannuation Scheme is already over. Of the 40,215 University and College Union members at pre-1992 universities eligible to vote in the ballot over a revised pension offer, only 39.1 per cent did so, the Electoral Reform Society announced on 26 January. Of those who voted, twice as many (10,538) chose to accept the deal drawn up by employers and the UCU as those who rejected it (5,168), with the new package due to be agreed with universities on 29 January, subject to consultation. The low turnout will surely surprise many who felt academics would fight harder to preserve comfortable final salary pensions, which were long seen as the “jewel in the crown” for the UCU and its membership.
  • “Heartbroken” students at the University of Glasgow are mourning the loss of their “beloved” campus cat, The Scotsman reported on 26 January. Miller became Glasgow’s unofficial mascot when he began to hang around campus buildings as a kitten 18 years ago, the paper reported. Since his death was announced last week, bereft students have taken to Twitter to recall Miller – otherwise known as “the Adam Smith cat” – and his exploits, with 1,700 liking the cat’s Facebook page. Miller picked up his nickname for frequenting the building named after the famous Scottish moral philosopher, rather than for his love of free market economics.
  • The University of Bristol is seeking to hire an “associate dean of eureka moments”. The catchy job title is actually for the rather more prosaic post of leading the university’s new School of Social and Clinical Medicine. But managers wanted a more lively moniker to “make people stop and think” about the “exciting opportunity”, BBC News online reported on 26 January. “It’s there to attract attention and it’s certainly worked,” said Jonathan Sandy, the university’s dean of medicine and dentistry. The successful applicant will be able to drop the unusual title if they wish, but keeping it may prove a good excuse for taking leisurely mid-afternoon baths in search of Archimedes-style inspiration.
  • A university professor has been drawn into a high-profile row with the nation’s favourite gardener Alan Titchmarsh, the Daily Mail reported on 26 January. Titchmarsh, who will take over as chancellor of the University of Winchester in six months, has hit out at one of the institution’s academics, Eric Anderson, over his boasts that he has slept with more than 1,000 teenagers and men. Professor Anderson, professor of sports, masculinities and sexualities, who has appeared on Titchmarsh’s daytime TV chat show, has also said that he plans to double that total, the Daily Mail reported. Titchmarsh, a committed Christian, said he is worried about the pressure “impressionable” 16-year-old boys face to have sex. He added it was “not justifiable” to sack someone “because their sexual mores differ from one’s own”, but he would have “no hesitation in encouraging appropriate and justified action” against Anderson, whose main offence is surely simply talking publicly about the racy subject. Admitting he had opened “an enormous can of worms”, Titchmarsh will probably wish he had stuck to his usual debates involving horticultural matters.
  • The Police Service of Northern Ireland has confirmed that it is seeking to obtain all the material from Boston College’s Belfast Project, which explored the history of paramilitary violence in the province. The US university had fought a long court battle to keep interviews with loyalists and republicans private, but in 2013 police obtained tapes relating to the 1972 murder of Jean McConville by the IRA – which apparently led to the arrest of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams. A PSNI spokesman said detectives were seeking “all the material”, The Observer reported on 25 January, as part of their duty to “investigate fully all matters of serious crime, including murder”. The plan emerged after loyalist Winston “Winkie” Rea obtained an interim injunction at the High Court in Belfast which prevented police flying to the US to collect tapes of his interviews.
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