The week in higher education – 5 May 2016

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

May 5, 2016
The week in higher education cartoon (5 May 2016)

Undergraduates already have to worry about robots taking their jobs when they hit the labour market, but they now face being replaced by drone bar staff in their own students’ unions. It follows an attempt at the world’s first drone cafe at Eindhoven University of Technology, in the Netherlands, the International Business Times reported on 25 April. For two days, punters were able to order their drinks with a drone via camera sensors, which then relayed the order to another unmanned aircraft that picked up the desired beverage and flew it to the customer. But student bar staff can rest easy for the moment as the €2,000 (£1,560) drones can carry only a small payload, let alone a round of double vodkas and Red Bull.

A Welsh university has paid £750 in compensation to a mature student after she complained that her creative writing course was “obsessed with sex”, the Daily Mail reported on 27 April. Angie Marynicz was awarded the sum by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for “distress and inconvenience” after it decided that the University of Wales Trinity Saint David had been wrong to force the 61-year-old to attend lectures that made her feel uncomfortable, the paper said. So what were the debauched texts that led to the problems? Not Fifty Shades of Grey or racy offerings by the Marquis de Sade, but Shakespeare’s Hamlet – with Ms Marynicz objecting to a lecturer’s discussion of the “Freudian idea that…Hamlet has an Oedipus complex ie, child sex/incest”. Her husband Ted also said that his wife “came home in tears” after a lecturer “giggled” when reading aloud a scene from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat in which an alcoholic husband puts an axe through his wife’s head – which Ms Marynicz felt made light of “domestic abuse”. The aspiring writer – described by her husband as a “normal chick-lit loving person” – will doubtless steer clear of the darker corners of fiction and drama in future, although it’s getting harder to do these days, with sociopathic, knife-wielding wives now cropping up on The Archers.

A US university leader has been placed on leave amid growing anger at a campus spending at least $175,000 (£120,000) trying to scrub bad press from the internet, the Star Tribune reported on 28 April. Linda Katehi, chancellor of the University of California, Davis is facing an internal investigation over “serious and troubling” questions raised by her actions in the wake of the widely criticised pepper-spraying of protesters by campus police in 2011, the paper said. It follows revelations by The Sacramento Bee, which found that at least $175,000 had been spent on search optimisation consultants who promised to diminish online references to the incident. Professor Katehi apologised last month for “a series of highly publicised missteps” that she admitted had “been a setback to our reputation and hard-earned prestige”.

When a King’s College London student-led policy institute seemingly withdrew an invitation to Boris Johnson over his comments on Barack Obama’s being “part-Kenyan”, media commentators were quick to condemn what appeared to be the latest example of politically correct “no-platforming”. But after the initial 25 April piece had done the rounds, it emerged that the email to Mr Johnson’s office from the King’s Think Tank was actually sent by a volunteer organiser who was not a student and had not obtained permission from executive members to retract the invite, King’s student paper Roar News reported on 27 April. “The invitation to Mr Johnson stands, as we never wished to withdraw it,” said Erica Arcudi, the Think Tank’s vice-president, in a development that strangely did not gain quite so much coverage.

Forget the Beckhams, the Kardashians or Beyoncé – this year’s unlikely style icons are now University Challenge contestants. Reflecting on her transformation into an “overnight style icon” in on 26 April, history PhD student Hannah Woods said that, with the “rise and rise of geek chic [and] the deliberately bland non-trend of normcore, it has never been cooler to be uncool”, hence the fascination with her outfits. Ms Woods, who led Peterhouse College, Cambridge to a series victory last month, explained that her “vintage Fruit of the Loom sweater printed with Old English Sheepdogs, worn over a lace piecrust collar” had largely proved a hit with viewers during her semi-final appearance. However, the “old Topshop floral embroidered sweater” that she wore in the final had divided opinion among Twitter’s UC fashion commentators, she admitted.

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