The week in higher education – 29 September 2016

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

September 29, 2016
The week in higher education cartoon (29 September 2016)

With Jeremy Corbyn so popular among young Labour members, it is perhaps no surprise that a cardboard cut-out of his arch nemesis Margaret Thatcher suffered at the hands of two students at a University of Manchester freshers’ fair. The students lopped off the head of the Thatcher cut-out because the former prime minister had “ruined this country for poor people” and should not be “paraded”, the Daily Mirror reported, quoting student newspaper The Mancunion. Luke Dyks, chair of the Manchester Conservative Future group that displayed the cut-out, said it was intended as “a bit of self-parody”. He said that ahead of the beheading “we had received no hostility other than a few sneers and funny looks”.

UK Independence Party MP Douglas Carswell’s bizarre claims that a university professor was wrong about the laws of the universe caused much mirth on Twitter. The Clacton MP chose to correct Paul Nightingale, deputy director of the University of Sussex’s science policy research unit, after the learned professor mentioned how the moon’s gravity moves tides in a tweet about international trade, the Daily Mirror reported on 20 September. “Actually, it’s the sun’s gravitational pull,” asserted Carswell, who later added he was “surprised [a] head of science of research at a university refutes idea sun’s gravity causes tides”. But Nightingale was not to be persuaded, stating “this isn’t a controversial point – it’s in Newton’s Principia” – showing typical academic arrogance with his fact-based dismissal of Carswell’s theory. Within a few hours, Carswell’s spat had gone viral, mostly mocking the politician’s efforts to rewrite the rules of science, even in the face of evidence from so-called “experts”, although some physicists joked there might be something in this new “common sense” approach to physics.

As a pacifist, martyr and father of the Indian state, Mahatma Gandhi would seem a fairly uncontroversial choice for a statue on campus. But students at the University of Ghana are now backing a Gandhi Must Fall campaign after claiming a new memorial to the civil rights leader is offensive to black Africans because of the racist language he used, The Independent reported on 22 September. More than 1,200 people have signed a petition calling for a statue unveiled in June to be pulled down on account of a series of quotes from Gandhi, including an 1893 letter in which he used the racist terms “kaffir” and “savages”. “If there should be statues on our campus…they should be of African heroes and heroines, who can serve as examples of who we are and what we have achieved as a people,” states the petition, which adds it is “better to stand up for our dignity than to kowtow to the wishes of a burgeoning Eurasian super-power”.

A University of Oxford fellow who tried to live as a badger, an ox and a stag has scooped an Ig Nobel prize for his unusual research. Charles Foster, who also rummaged through bins in London as an urban fox, shared the biology prize with fellow Briton Tom Thwaites, who lived as a goat in the Swiss Alps for three days, using prosthetic limbs that allowed him to walk on all fours, the Daily Telegraph reported on 22 September. The two researchers were among those to accept the awards, organised by the magazine Annals of Improbable Research, held at a packed 1,100-seat auditorium at Harvard University, where they were presented with their prizes by genuine Nobel laureates. Other academics to win plaudits for research that “make people laugh and then think” included the Egyptian urologist Ahmed Shafik, who dressed rats in trousers to investigate the garments’ effect on their sex lives.

Many academics have been won over by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of Labour, but one who hasn’t is his ex-wife, the Daily Telegraph reported on 21 September. Despite voting for the Islington North MP a year ago, Jane Chapman, professor of communications at the University of Lincoln, told BBC Radio 5 live that she backed his rival Owen Smith in the latest run-off. “Last time I voted for Jeremy out of personal loyalty, but I’ve been so saddened and really upset by some of the things [that have happened],” said Chapman, who called time on their six-year marriage in 1979 when his intense commitment to leftwing politics got too much to bear. Labour had become a “painful sideshow” under his “chaotic leadership”, added Chapman – whose intervention failed to dampen enthusiasm for Corbyn, whose victory in the leadership race was confirmed on Saturday.

Former Manchester United star Park Ji-sung has enrolled at a UK university to “improve his knowledge of football”, BBC Sport reported on 21 September. The retired midfielder said that he had enrolled on a sports management course at De Montfort University in Leicester to learn more about football activities off the pitch with a view to working in the South Korean football league. The arrival of the 35-year-old Champions League winner did not go unnoticed by DMU’s QPR-loving vice-chancellor Dominic Shellard, who was quick to re-tweet stories about the former Loftus Road player’s studies.

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