The week in higher education – 11 February 2016

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

February 11, 2016
The week in higher education cartoon (11 February 2016)

What explains Leicester City’s unlikely rise to the top of the Premier League? The goals of striker Jamie Vardy and winger Riyad Mahrez have played their part, but can the University of Leicester also share some of the glory? Some diehard football fans think so, pointing to the city’s renewed confidence since the university’s archaeologists helped to dig up Richard III from a council car park, leading to his reinterment in Leicester Cathedral. “Since the king’s reburial, Leicester have lost three league matches, a coincidence that reflects a general sense of renewal,” reported The Times on 4 February. “It’s shaped us a little bit,” explained Gary Silke, of The Fox fanzine. “Look up the road: they’ve got Robin Hood. Perhaps we’ve got somebody now,” added Silke.

An “anti-ban society” at the London School of Economics could itself be banned after a student filed a motion branding it “self-important and ill-informed”, The Independent reported on 4 February. The LSESU Speakeasy was founded last month to combat campus censorship shortly after the online magazine Spiked deemed the LSE to have a “shocking score” on stifling free speech, the paper said. But the group has now come under attack from law undergraduate Maurice Banerjee Palmer, who claims that the Speakeasy is little more than a publicity stunt and should be banned. Writing on the LSE student union news website BeaverOnline, he said that the Speakeasys founders had been completely absent as he tried to take on efforts to ban various things from campus. “Instead of actually doing any debating…[they] decided to set up a society in the name of debate and get their faces in the papers, he said. Palmer added that his motion was only half-serious, however, saying that he wanted “to make a point – it would be hilarious if the anti-ban society was actually banned”.

Getting just one celebrity to show up to campus can be a tricky task, even if you bribe them with an honorary gong. That doesn’t seem to be a problem for the new principal of Lady Margaret Hall, the ex-Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, who announced that a batch of A-list celebs will be popping in regularly over the next few years. Among the great and good unveiled as “non-academic visiting fellows” are actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Emma Watson, Pet Shop Boys singer Neil Tennant and former children’s laureate Malorie Blackman. “We hope they will occasionally come and eat at college as well as debate, perform, challenge and otherwise engage with the fellows, tutors, support staff and students,” said Rusbridger, suggesting that the feted Hollywood actors might not exactly be fixtures in college life.

A Canadian university has apologised after emailing staff a video deemed “sexist, offensive and demeaning” to female faculty, the Daily Mirror reported on 5 February. The video produced by Simon Fraser University, in British Columbia, featured a female lecturer who is visited in her office by a male student named Chad, the paper reported. After Chad compliments “Miss Pinkham” on her tight-fitting pink sweater, she looks confused at first, but then looks at her chest, giggles and says thanks. Miss Pinkham is then seen turning down the thermostat as an excuse to wear the sweater – with text on screen stating that “saving energy is sexy”. The promotional video was for “National Sweater Day”, a World Wide Fund for Nature energy-saving initiative, but a university spokesman later admitted that it was “inappropriate”. Sarah Johnson, a physics lecturer at Simon Fraser who criticised the video, added that it was doubly offensive as Miss Pinkham was pictured playing solitaire on her computer prior to Chad’s arrival, rather than working.

A University of Cambridge PhD student killed in Cairo was tortured for several days before dying of a broken neck, the Sunday Telegraph reported on 7 February. The battered body of Giulio Regeni, 28, was discovered near a highway close to the Egyptian capital nine days after he went missing, the paper said. The Italian, a doctoral student at Girton College, was doing research on labour movements in Egypt, where trade unions are seen as a locus for anti-government uprisings. His death was originally reported in pro-government press as probably a “traffic accident”, but prosecutors in Rome have now launched a murder investigation after a second autopsy there found bruises, burn marks and more than two dozen broken bones in Mr Regeni’s body, the paper said.

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