The week in higher education – 12 July 2018

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

July 12, 2018
week-in-he-12-july-2018

“A cryptic video posted on Twitter by Sacha Baron Cohen suggests that the actor and comedian behind Borat and Brüno may be about to release a film taking aim at Trump University,” The Guardian reported on 5 July. A clip tweeted from Mr Baron Cohen’s account included the words “Sacha Graduates Soon”, before “closing with a logo for Trump University”, the newspaper said. Mr Trump settled fraud claims from angry former students for $25 million (£18.7 million) in April, in a suit that had previously prompted the then New York attorney general to claim that those behind the “university” had “intentionally misled over 5,000 individuals nationwide…into paying as much as $35,000 each to participate in live seminars and mentorship programmes with the promise of learning Donald Trump’s real estate investing techniques”. Allegations that he misled more than 5,000 individuals nationwide didn’t leave much of a dent for the president, whose ambitions are far greater.


There was more film news about Mr Trump, as the Voice of America website reported on 4 July that a “book about an alleged prophecy describing Donald Trump’s win as US president is being produced as a movie by Liberty University” has caused alarm among some students at the Christian institution, whose president Jerry Falwell Jr is a fervent supporter of Trump. The film – “in which Liberty University students are technicians, editors and set decorators for class credit” – tells the story of Mark Taylor, a retired firefighter from Orlando, Florida, who said in 2011 that God had told him Mr Trump would become US president. Some students have mounted a petition warning that the film “could reflect very poorly on all Liberty students and Liberty University as a whole”. Fox News has previously noted that other prophecies made by Mr Taylor and not included in the film include predictions “that President Barack Obama will be charged with treason and that Trump will release cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease that the pharmaceutical industry has kept secret”. But there’s still time for all those.


The University of Reading’s social media team is basking in Twitter and national media acclaim after taking a forthright stance on the institution’s scholarship scheme for refugees. Critics had objected that places should be offered to British people struggling financially, not to those who have come from overseas, The Times reported on 4 July. The university’s press office account responded on Twitter: “We’ve had feedback over the last week that some people are unhappy with our plan to offer up to 14 scholarships to refugees living in the local area. To these people, we would like to say: Tough. Jog on.” The university received some “complaints about the language”, the BBC News website reported – but 74,000 likes for the tweet will soften the blow.


The Australian prime minister’s cyber security adviser said that it was not yet known what hackers may have stolen when they “utterly compromised” the Australian National University’s computer system and gained administrative powers, The Australian reported on 8 July. “I’d say to you that any research institution, any tertiary institution is always going to be of interest to criminals and nation states,” Alastair MacGibbon told Sky News, pinpointing “high level R&D” as a potential target. Although there was as yet no public confirmation of where the attack came from and whether it was the work of a state actor, Nine News had reported “concerns within the intelligence community that China had access to the univer­sity’s intellectual property”, the Australian said.


“The world needs more cowboys” – not a Trump University slogan, but a University of Wyoming one. The tagline for a planned marketing campaign has drawn criticism, with objections that the slogan is “sexist, racist and counterproductive to the university’s recruiting goals,” according to a report originally from the Laramie Boomerang picked up by the Associated Press on 8 July. “Boulder, Colorado-based marketing firm Victors & Spoils was paid around $500,000 to develop the campaign,” the Associated Press acidly noted. University of Wyoming director of communications Chad Baldwin took on the PR equivalent of Gary Cooper’s role in High Noon as the lone marshal ready to face the bullets when no one else will. The university was reframing the term “cowboy” so that “it’s not gender-specific,” Mr Baldwin said, blowing smoke from the barrel of his marketing-speak six shooter. “It’s not at all exclusionary. It’s the spirit of the cowboy that we all kind of share in.” 

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