The week in higher education

May 12, 2011


Credit: Nick Newman


•"At my signal, unleash hell" - not David Willetts launching the new fees system, but the most famous line from a Hollywood actor who apparently yearns to work in UK higher education. Russell Crowe's ambition to teach drama at Durham University was exposed in The Independent on 6 May. Mr Crowe, whose credits include Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind, has apparently responded to an offer made by his friend, the outgoing Durham chancellor Bill Bryson. On his Twitter feed, Mr Crowe said: "Hey Bill Bryson didn't you promise me a knighthood if I taught drama at Durham ... if you are leaving we need to get this done." In angling for a knighthood, the actor already has something in common with a number of UK higher education's leading figures.

•The "Climategate" affair at the University of East Anglia does not cast doubt on the basic picture of global warming, the government has said. In its response to an inquiry by the Commons Science and Technology Committee, the government also "agrees there were failings at the university", it was reported on 6 May. It says that two reviews of the issue could have been conducted more openly, but it concurs with their key findings, saying: "We find no evidence to question the scientific basis of human influence on the climate."

•A US university has overturned a decision to withhold an honorary degree from a Pulitzer prize-winning playwright because he was judged to be "anti-Israel". On 9 May, the City University of New York's executive committee voted to authorise the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to award the degree to Tony Kushner. A week earlier, the move was blocked when a single trustee, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, launched an attack on the Angels in America author over his views on Israel. Mr Wiesenfeld was instrumental in having a temporary CUNY lecturer dismissed for his views on Israel earlier this year, it was reported. Informed that the honorary degree would go ahead, Mr Wiesenfeld repeated his claim that Mr Kushner had committed a "blood libel against the Jewish people" in accusing Israel of ethnic cleansing.

•The real cost of a university education is far higher than tuition fees suggest - if you are Alan Sugar. In an interview published on 10 May, Lord Sugar said he did not regret not taking a degree because "three years at university would have been a waste of time - I would have already made £200,000 by then". Drawing a distinction that many will welcome, the businessman turned TV star said he was "a commercial person, not an academic". However, less welcome will be his definition of a degree as "a badge that shows (you) have a brain". He added: "You can say to these people who come out with their two-point-ones, or whatever, that's fine but you know nothing."

•A controversial remark made by a Canadian police officer to a group of students has sparked a "SlutWalk" protest movement that is spreading worldwide. When the Toronto police officer visited Osgoode Hall Law School earlier this year, he reportedly told students: "I've been told I'm not supposed to say this - however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised." The remarks have sparked a protest movement set to include anti-sexual assault marches across the world, it was reported on 10 May.

•Drunken debauchery at Oxbridge is a summer staple for much of the national press, and there was an early start this year. The Daily Mail painted a lurid picture of "Caesarian Sunday", a pre-exam tradition enjoyed by less academically inclined University of Cambridge students. Visitors to one of the city's parks "were subjected to views of students fighting, stripping off, vomiting and urinating in bushes and flower beds", the newspaper said. "Girls were seen drinking port through condoms," the Mail added. The story was followed up on 10 May with a report on one college's efforts to recruit sober students to look after their drunken peers at this year's May Balls.

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