The week in higher education

March 4, 2010

An academic who quit after his decision to fail underperforming students was changed without his knowledge has said his victory in court "restores the right of individual academics to return marks within the subject in which they are acknowledged experts". Paul Buckland, professor of archaeology at the University of Bournemouth, won his case for unfair dismissal at the Court of Appeal on 24 February. He failed 26 out of 60 second-year students taking one of his courses in 2006, ten of whom subsequently had their marks upgraded to passes without his say-so. He resigned, saying that the university's actions were an "affront to his integrity".

It may not be what politicians have in mind when they talk about research impact, but a study by US academics was seized on by The Sun as an excuse to run a topless shot of "curvy favourite Keeley Hazell" on 24 February. The tabloid reported the findings by neuroscientists at Georgia Gwinnett College, which it says show that "looking at Page 3 gives men a high similar to the feelings produced by alcohol or drugs". "Seeing women's curvy figures activates part of men's brains that triggers feelings of 'reward'," it says. "Visit Page3.com for your daily 'reward'."

Following substantial funding cuts, universities and academics are taking turns to plead their case with the Government. This week it was scholars in the arts and humanities, who said on 28 February that they fear they are being unfairly singled out. "There seems to be a belief in government and in much of business that knowledge can be cut into discrete blocks and that the ones that matter most are those of science and technology, engineering and maths," they say in an open letter. In fact, they continue, other areas are just as important, although their argument that we need to understand "human complexity" may prove to be a tough sell. Among the signatories is Rick Trainor, principal of King's College London, where all 220 academic staff in the School of Arts and Humanities have been told that their jobs could be at risk as part of cost-cutting plans. Union members at King's were due to hold their first-ever vote on strike action on 4 March in response to the institution's plans to axe 205 jobs.

In an unusual attempt at a put-down, a journalist has accused Barack Obama of acting not like a politician but "a professor". Writing in The Sunday Telegraph on 28 February, Toby Harnden describes a recent speech which he says the US President used to "scold, patronise and peevishly disdain his opponents - and to pontificate for six hours". He concludes: "Obama is not a leader or even really a politician - he is a professor convinced of his own intellectual superiority."

They share sporting talent and an apparent inability to stay faithful to their wives: now it seems that John Terry and Tiger Woods have something else in common. Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics, has claimed that infidelity is an indicator of low IQ. His theory, reported on 1 March, is that throughout evolutionary history, men have always been "mildly polygamous". However, monogamy has emerged as an "evolutionarily novel" development. Dr Kanazawa contends that the cleverer people are, the more likely they are to adopt what in evolutionary terms are new practices.

The academic at the centre of the "Climategate" controversy has admitted under questioning by MPs that he sent some "pretty awful" emails. Phil Jones, head of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, appeared before the Science and Technology Committee, which is investigating the affair, on 1 March. He was quizzed about an email, which came to light when thousands of documents were leaked or hacked from the unit last year, in which he asked a climate-change sceptic: "Why should I give information to you when all you want to do is find something wrong with it?" Graham Stringer, Labour MP for Manchester Blackley, said the correspondence, which Professor Jones admitted was "pretty awful", "seems to be anti-scientific".

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