The week in higher education: 10 August 2017

The good, the bad and the offbeat: the academy through the lens of the world’s media

August 10, 2017
Week in HE cartoon 10 August

Academics at Queen Mary University of London have been warned against sleeping overnight in their offices. “This is not acceptable practice and is potentially dangerous given that we do not have the required level of fire detection to alert people sleeping in these buildings. If anyone is found sleeping overnight in our academic buildings, they could be liable for disciplinary action,” a Queen Mary “circular” said, according to The Daily Telegraph in a 30 July report. The University and College Union highlighted the issue of unpaid overtime in response. But couldn’t Queen Mary staff simply use their “three-month summer holiday” – as described recently by Labour peer and former education secretary Lord Adonis – to catch up instead of working overnight?

After weeks of criticism over their high salaries, UK vice-chancellors were looking for someone to stop the motor of government and media censure revving. George Holmes, the University of Bolton vice-chancellor, stepped forward in an interview with the Financial Times on 1 August. The newspaper noted that he drives a Bentley Continental and, as Times Higher Education has reported, has a yacht moored on Lake Windermere. “I hope that students use their education to get a good job and then they can have a Bentley,” he said. “Do you want to be taught by someone who is successful or a failure?” he added. Professor Holmes, who was paid a salary of £222,200 in 2015-16, went on to argue that university leaders “are doing a very good job” and asked the interviewer to “name a university that has gone bankrupt”, which isn’t setting the bar for success particularly high. Other national and local media reports highlighted the comments in less-than-flattering terms, meaning that Professor Holmes put fresh wind in the sails of critics or, if you prefer, hit a luxuriantly padded accelerator pedal instead of the brake.

A University of Oxford employee and an American professor suspected of killing a man in Chicago handed themselves in after a US-wide manhunt, the BBC News website reported on 4 August. “Somerville College senior treasury assistant Andrew Warren, 56, handed himself in nearly 2,000 miles away in San Francisco while Prof Wyndham Lathem, 42, gave himself up in Oakland. The pair have been accused of fatally stabbing Trenton Cornell-Duranleau, 26, in Mr Lathem’s Chicago flat on 27 July,” the BBC said. Wyndham Lathem is a microbiology professor at Northwestern University, who specialises in the bacteria that caused the bubonic plague, it noted.

Alistair Jarvis was named the new chief executive of Universities UK on 7 August, as the organisation confronts the looming challenges of Brexit and an English funding system under pressure. Mr Jarvis, formerly deputy and acting chief executive at UUK, succeeds Nicola Dandridge, selected as chief executive of the Office for Students, the body that will be the new regulator for the English sector. UUK is one of two organisations, alongside GuildHE, that represents the sector in talks with the government. Mr Jarvis was formerly director of communications at the University of Birmingham and also at the 1994 Group. “Our universities are united in shared values of openness, tolerance, creativity and a commitment to discovery and learning,” he said. “Given the current economic and social challenges, it is crucial that these values and the voice of our universities are heard.” Given that UUK’s members are vice-chancellors, the media uproar over their salaries should be an early test of Mr Jarvis’ communication skills.

Donald Trump’s administration could weigh in against the use of affirmative action in US university and college admissions, according to reports. The Department of Justice this week signalled that it would throw its weight behind a long-running case brought by a small advocacy group that claims Harvard University’s policies cap the number of high-achieving Asian Americans admitted, favouring African Americans and Latinos, the CNN website reported on 6 August. “The advocates behind the case have a record of related litigation, and their long-held goal has been to end nationwide affirmative action programs designed to help blacks and other traditionally disadvantaged minorities” and any move by the justice department on the case could “ultimately alter the future of affirmative action nationwide”, CNN reported.

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