The week in higher education – 6 October 2016

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

October 6, 2016
The week in higher education cartoon (6 October 2016)

Many PhD students feel that they have put everything that they have into their thesis and, for one University of Cambridge student, this extended to the clothes off his own back. Paul McMullen posed naked outside Pembroke College with his partner Jane Cormack to mark the submission of his thesis on ancient Greek religion, with only three strategically placed copies of the document protecting their modesty, the Cambridge News reported on 30 September. Ms Cormack told the newspaper that Mr McMullen felt that, since he had “bared all” for his PhD, it was only right that he should strip off to submit it. Although ancient Greek statues suggest a taste for all things nude, Ms Cormack seemed unsure about the theological implications of the photo. “I am not sure if the gods would approve,” she said.

There will be no slumming it in dingy digs for a pair of University College London third-years, who have moved into an apartment that was once home to late singer Amy Winehouse. Metro reported on 28 September how the natural sciences undergraduates, named only as Jamie and Katie, had found the luxury Camden flat on the Rightmove website. The pair initially thought that the Winehouse link was a marketing ploy but, on examining photos of the singer, started to recognise parts of their new home in the background. The plush pad, which boasts three bedrooms, an open-plan living area, two bathrooms and even a phone by a bath, is thought to be worth more than £1 million. While Jamie and Katie did not reveal how much they were paying for the property, the rental value is listed online as a cool £3,300 per month. “It’s outrageous that we have it as students,” Jamie was quoted as saying. “We should really be living somewhere dingy.”

Can cats take on the habits of their owners? This question seems to have been definitively answered by a moggy that is a regular feature at Malaysia’s International Islamic University. Buzzfeed reported on 30 September how the cat sat on a desk during a lecture at the institution and, despite its best efforts to pay attention, promptly fell asleep. Photos of the dozy animal quickly went viral online, with social media users remarking on how it appeared to be mimicking behaviour displayed by students for time immemorial. Nur Elynna Binti Mohammad Shaharul Hashri, a student who was in the class, said people had been happy to let the cat enjoy its nap. “The other students and teachers found it really amusing too but we just left the cat…it did not disturb the flow of our lesson,” she said.

A university leader caused about $12,000 (£9,320) of damage to a plane owned by his institution after experiencing a hard landing at a US airport. Substantial damage was caused to both wings of Iowa State University’s Cirrus SR22 when president Steven Leath tried to touch down in North Carolina in July 2015, the Iowa State Daily reported on 26 September. The university paid for the repairs, and the $2,200 cost of sending trained university pilots to collect Dr Leath and his wife after the incident, from institutional funds. Although Dr Leath has a home in North Carolina and was formerly a vice-president at the University of North Carolina, Iowa State insisted that the trip – and three other similar journeys – had been for business as well as personal reasons. Dr Leath, a trained pilot, has reimbursed the university for the normal costs of the flights and has since said that he will no longer use university planes.

As reported in last week's Week in Higher Education, the annual Ig Nobel prizes always make for a good news story, but one television anchor found herself making headlines when she surrendered to a fit of giggles. Maralee Caruso, a presenter on CTV Winnipeg News, struggled to keep her cool while describing how British researcher Tom Thwaites had lived as a goat for three days in the Swiss Alps, the Daily Telegraph reported on 27 September. Ms Caruso’s voice began to crack when she started narrating a clip of Mr Thwaites walking on four prosthetic limbs on a mountain and was in tears of laughter by the end of the segment. The Ig Nobel prizes are awarded for research that “makes people laugh and then think”, with success in the first task clearly demonstrated by Ms Caruso.

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