The week in higher education

June 23, 2011

•The University of Cambridge got more than it bargained for in recruiting a new chancellor. The university put forward Lord Sainsbury, the former science minister and chairman of Sainsbury's, as its candidate to replace the Duke of Edinburgh, who is retiring. It was revealed on 17 June that three others had gained the requisite 50 nominations from Cambridge academics needed to stand: actor Brian Blessed, barrister Michael Mansfield and grocer Abdul Arain, who owns a store in the city and objects to the opening of a local Sainsbury's. The goals of the candidates range from Mr Mansfield's wish to fight the marketisation of higher education, to Mr Arain's worries about the supermarketisation of the high street, and the yearning of Mr Blessed - known mainly for gale-force shouting - to inspire Cambridge students "to do expeditions all over the world".

•The government is playing "fast and loose with the law" when it comes to free speech on campus, according to the provost of University College London. Malcolm Grant used his newsletter to staff to criticise the government over Prevent, its anti-extremism strategy, and Theresa May, the Home Secretary, over her claim that universities have not addressed extremism, it was reported on 17 June. "What seems to be actually meant is that universities have refused to censor the exercise of academic freedom and freedom of speech within the law ... We must not allow the government to play fast and loose with the rule of law." Professor Grant also objected to Ms May's observation that 30 per cent of those convicted of terrorist offences since 2000 were university educated. "One hesitates to point out that this figure accords closely to the university-educated proportion of the population at large," he says.

•The University of Oxford is known for indulging some odd behaviours on the part of students following arcane traditions, but it draws the line at the "abuse of foodstuffs". A female student was handed an £80 fine after being caught rubbing a trifle in another student's face during a "trashing" ceremony following the completion of an exam, it was reported on 20 June. The woman was told that she cannot attend her graduation ceremony unless she pays the fine, which "seems harsh", a friend of hers told The Daily Telegraph. An email to undergraduates from proctors earlier in the year requested students' "help in keeping people safe, and stamping out the abuse of all foodstuffs ... Rotting food, vomit, broken glass and other items causing litter are simply not what any of us wants to see."

•A professor of physics is in hot water because he allegedly pursued a rather unusual "hobby" - running a prostitution ring. David Flory, a lecturer at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey and former director of its School of Natural Sciences, was arrested in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he has a home, and charged with 40 counts of promoting prostitution. William Roseman of the Albuquerque police said Professor Flory ran a website with message boards that advised sex workers on how to avoid the police, it was reported on 21 June. Another message board allowed clients to rate the sexual services they had purchased, Lieutenant Roseman said. He added that Professor Flory told the police that he did not make money from the website, but rather saw it as a hobby, "a safe place for guys to find female prostitutes".

•It is "difficult to recall a worse example of public policymaking" than the government's overhaul of tuition fees, a former vice-chancellor has said. Sir Peter Scott, professor of higher education studies at the Institute of Education, University of London, said in a speech at the University of Nottingham that the proposed expansion of further education colleges as a cheap alternative for degrees was "sheer fantasy". The former vice-chancellor of Kingston University also criticised the government for its "apparent failure to do any serious modelling" of the proposed fees regime, it was reported on 21 June. The whole affair was a "slow car crash", he added. Lucky for Sir Peter that he already has his knighthood.

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