The week in higher education – 7 April 2016

The good, the bad and the offbeat: the academy through the lens of the national press

April 7, 2016
The week in higher education cartoon (7 April 2016)

The University of New South Wales has been accused of rewriting history after students were advised to refer to Britain’s “invasion” of Australia, BBC News Online reported on 31 March. Under new guidelines, students will be urged to use the term “invaded”, rather than “settled” or “discovered”, when describing the 18th-century colonisation of the country. However, the language guide has been criticised by some for attempting to brainwash students into accepting a new politically correct version of Australian history. “Don’t try to restrict the thinking of university students by some so-called diversity toolkit on indigenous terminology rubbish which dictates game, set and match that [Captain James] Cook’s arrival in New South Wales must be referred to as an invasion,” said Alan Jones, a conservative chat show host. However, Queensland state premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said that she supported universities teaching “the truth” that Australia had been invaded by Captain Cook and subsequent British fleets of settlers.

An Iraqi university’s chemistry laboratory has been converted into an Islamic State bomb-making factory, the Wall Street Journal reported on 1 April. The terrorist group is using the University of Mosul’s acclaimed science facilities to cook up peroxide-based explosives after taking over Iraq’s second-biggest city two years ago, the paper said. “The University of Mosul is the best Daesh research center in the world,” Iraq’s top explosives officer General Hatem Magsosi told the paper. “Trainees go to Raqqa [in Syria], then to Mosul University to use the existing facilities,” he added. However, US airstrikes on the university’s sprawling campus may have disabled the bomb-making labs, one of the few upsides of the devastating raids on a once-prestigious university, the paper said.

Are you a “grammar Nazi”? If so, you’re probably just a “jerk”, reported the Daily Mail last week. Linguists at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor found that people who are irked by grammatical errors tended to be less agreeable, while spelling mistakes particularly offended people who are “more conscientious and less open”, the newspaper reported on 30 March. Participants in the study were asked to imagine that they had posted an online advert for a new housemate and were told to evaluate emails in response – some of which contained deliberate errors. Daily Mail readers commenting under the story smelled a rat, however. “The D M are trying to hit back at those who correct their awful grammar and spelling” was one popular response to the story.

Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, has become the scene of a bizarre chalk-based battle over the offensiveness or otherwise of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Late last month, anonymous chalkers scrawled “Trump 2016” slogans across the campus, prompting some ethnic minority students and others to say that they had been hurt by the messages, Inside Higher Ed reported on 28 March. Emory administrators expressed sympathy with students who felt intimidated, setting off another round of chalkings – this time from libertarian students, who drew messages in support of all the candidates to make a point in favour of freedom of expression and as a “counterprotest to show that students are capable of handling chalk”.

The government does intend to publish a White Paper on higher education “in the spring” as its response to views put forward by universities and others to its Green Paper released in November, it has emerged. The confirmation came in a written parliamentary answer last week from Conservative peer Baroness Neville-Rolfe in response to a question on the potential for future legislation governing students’ unions. The news that Green will become White is sure to fire the starting gun on what awe-inspiring title those at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills have in mind for the document, given that they have to follow the Department for Education, whose recent White Paper Educational Excellence Everywhere was possibly the worst title for a government report in living memory. If BIS wants to continue the alliterative masterclass, options could perhaps include Unbelievable Universities Universally or Incredible Institutions Inevitably; but the more boring truth is that we may be more likely to get yet another variation on the done-to-death “Universities Challenged” theme.

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