The week in higher education – 10 May 2018

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

May 10, 2018
week in he 10 may

Boston University economics professor Christophe Chamley enjoyed a pleasant solo hike over two mountains in New Hampshire last month. Then, instead of returning home at the end of the day, the 70-year-old stayed at a luxury hotel, sent his wife a WhatsApp message at 1am to let her know that he was fine, and went to sleep. But because the message failed to send, his wife called mountain rescue services to report him missing, The Daily Telegraph reported on 3 May. The state Fish and Game Department dispatched snowmobiles and a National Guard helicopter to search for Professor Chamley, before officials eventually spoke to the hotel and realised that he was sleeping soundly there. Kevin Jordan, chief of the department’s law enforcement division, told the New Hampshire Union Leader that Professor Chamley would likely be charged for the costs of the search, which he estimated would be several thousand dollars. Fish and Game Department staff were “of course, a little upset, but after that they were very caring”, said Professor Chamley, behaving, as an economist would, as a rational agent trying to flatter his way out of the enormous bill.


Sir Anthony Seldon, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, spotlighted a factor in rising mental health problems among the UK’s youth population that most observers have hitherto overlooked – state education. He discussed the mental health of university students at an event held by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses' Conference, an association of private school heads, the Daily Mail reported on 2 May. Sir Anthony said: “You know about the rise in suicide, you know about the inability of many students to cope – how can they cope when they have been spoon-fed at their state schools, not given that freedom to learn, to organise their own time?” Sir Anthony went to the private Tonbridge School, taught at the private Whitgift School, taught at Tonbridge, was deputy head at the private St Dunstan’s College, was headmaster at the private Brighton College and then at the private Wellington College. His career choices indicate a surprising unwillingness to grapple with the flaws of the state school system, of which he knows so much.


“A Brit uni graduate has spent £5,000 on billboard ads in the US and UK asking Kanye West for a job,” The Sun reported on 1 May. Durham University economics graduate Harry Dry funded part of the cost of the ads by saving up his student maintenance loan. He was “inspired to do something different having noticed the American rapper had 160 jobs to fill in his business empire” and has paid for billboards in London, Wyoming, New York and Los Angeles, the hubs of said “empire”, The Sun said. In light of Mr West’s recent comments suggesting that the enslavement of African Americans over centuries may have been a “choice”, anyone who can get him to shut up would be a valuable hire. The furore over those comments by the rapper, who referenced his curtailed higher education in his album The College Dropout, saw comedian Romesh Ranganathan observe on Twitter: “Kanye West is an incredible advert for finishing college.”


Sam Gyimah, the UK’s universities minister, made the umpteenth in a possibly never-ending series of announcements on campus free speech on 3 May, as he held a behind-closed-doors meeting with sector leaders. “Students will be banned from refusing speakers a platform at their universities under the first government intervention on free speech on campus for 30 years,” The Times excitedly proclaimed. Mr Gyimah was closer to the truth when he said in an opinion piece for The Times that the meeting sought to “clarify the rules and regulations around speakers and events”. “‘I wholly disapprove with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’. Voltaire’s famous words reflect my opinion on free speech. It is an essential part of a thriving democracy, a civil society and a fulfilling university experience,” Mr Gyimah's piece began. The ungrammatical “disapprove with” went alongside a quotation that is notorious for being a) so hackneyed that using it would shame a GCSE student; and b) misattributed to Voltaire. There followed a weak anecdote about one of Mr Gyimah’s “Sam on Campus” events that merited the bathetic headline that the sub-editors inflicted on the article: “The time I was almost censored on campus.”

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