The week in higher education – 6 August 2015

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

August 6, 2015
The week in higher education cartoon (6 August 2015)

Comments about Mexican immigrants widely seen as offensive have failed to dent Donald Trump’s presidential ambitions, but lawsuits over his failed for-profit university might. According to a report on the Vox website on 29 July, the entrepreneur will have to testify in court on 10 August over a class action lawsuit regarding Trump University, which charged up to $35,000 (£22,447) for business school classes between 2005 and 2010. Despite promotional materials suggesting that the real estate tycoon was heavily involved in the enterprise, Trump University “delivered neither Donald Trump nor a university”, according to Art Cohen, one of the plaintiffs. Some 800 former students have already received compensation, but further political embarrassment is expected as the legal saga rumbles on.


A “very aggressive” turkey that has “terrorised” a university campus has finally been captured. The wild bird, dubbed on social media Gobbles or, inexplicably, Dr Tom Tom, had evaded the clutches of authorities on the University of Michigan’s north campus since late June, featuring in a total of seven police reports last month, the Ann Arbor News reported on 30 July. The fearsome fowl had left staff and students trapped in academic buildings, and it had also attempted to board buses, the paper said. However, Gobbles was captured on 2 August and relocated to an animal sanctuary in southern Michigan. “I think the biggest thing is that we’re thankful the turkey and other people didn’t get hurt, and we don’t have any property damage as a result of it,” said a clearly relieved, and clearly underemployed, Diane Brown, from the university’s police department.


Working out “whodunnit” in an Agatha Christie detective story has become a little easier thanks to a mathematical formula created by academics, the Daily Mail reported on 3 August. The equation – k(r, δ, θ, c) = f{rk+δ+θ{PM}, c(3≤4.5} – might seem rather baffling for most armchair enthusiasts, but it lays out a clear set of rules that will lead to the killer, say academics at Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Exeter. To find the killer (k), readers should pay close attention to the chapter in which each character is introduced (c): culprits always appear in the first half of the tale, and usually in the first fifth. Violent murders are normally committed by a man, while poisoners tend to be women, according to the academic analysis of nearly 30 different novels by the grande dame of crime fiction. But isn’t there a parenthesis missing from the equation? This research might not be as sophisticated and rigorous as it first appears.


A hitchhiking robot created by Canadian academics has been decapitated just two weeks into its voyage across America, The Guardian reported on 3 August. HitchBOT, which set off on its east-to-west road trip on 17 July, lost its head in an attack in Philadelphia on 1 August, the paper said. Created as an art project-cum-scientific experiment, the robot had previously crossed Canada in 26 days last summer, gaining internet celebrity thanks to the photographs that it had regularly posted on Twitter and Facebook. No photographs were taken of hitchBOT’s assailant, but its co-creator Frauke Zeller, of Ryerson University in Toronto, said that she was not interested in seeking justice for the dismembered bot. “We wish to remember the good times, and we encourage hitchBOT’s friends and fans to do the same,” Dr Zeller said.


Young people in Britain who have a “pending” or “discretionary” immigration status will be able to apply for student loans thanks to a Supreme Court ruling, The Daily Telegraph reported on 30 July. The blanket ban on students who did not have “indefinite leave to remain” in the UK or full British citizenship was disproportionate and could not be justified, said Baroness Hale of Richmond, deputy president of the Supreme Court. The judgment related specifically to 20-year-old Beaurish Tigere, from Zambia, who has lived in the UK since she was six. Although legally resident in the UK, she was unable to take up one of her five unconditional offers of a university place because of her immigration status. However, the ruling will apply to an estimated 600 to 1,000 young people each year who were previously hit by the restrictions introduced in 2012.

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