The week in higher education – 14 March 2019

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

March 14, 2019
Cartoon Reading

Staff at the University of Reading claimed that they were being “made to pay for the glaring mistakes of incompetent senior managers” after the institution announced plans to cut about a third of jobs in the modern languages department. A review group looking at the provision of modern languages at the university has recommended merging the department of modern languages and European studies with the institution-wide language programme – a move that will result in between 22 per cent and 35 per cent of jobs in the two departments being cut. It’s no secret that the move is designed to save money – a document seen by THE shows that, in April 2018, the departments shared a deficit of about £500,000. The expected savings will make little dent in Reading’s most recent annual deficit of £20 million, however. One member of staff at Reading said that the university “would not be in its current dire straits if it were not for the arrogance, incompetence, financial mismanagement and misguided vanity projects of its current and recent senior management”. A university spokesman pointed to a sector-wide decline in the take-up of languages and said that the merger would make for a “financially sustainable” solution.

A study by Australian and Chinese researchers has sought answers to one of the big questions keeping our ears ringing at night. Academics led by Macquarie University’s Yanan Sun explored whether death metal music desensitised its fans to violence by comparing how heavy metal fans and non-metal fans reacted to violent images while listening to a Swedish death metal song or the tune Happy by Pharrell Williams. Contrary to stereotypes, no evidence was found to suggest death metal fans were desensitised to violence, according to a paper in Royal Society Open Science. Less surprising, however, was that the non-metal fans expressed enhanced sensitivity to violent images when exposed to death metal tunes. We hope, for the sake of neighbouring departments, that participants were provided with headphones.

We’ve all hit “send” on an email that has the wrong addressee. But one such error caused great disquiet at the University of Winchester, for it revealed the identity of all staff members at risk of redundancy. A message from human resources that should have been blind-copied to those who could face redundancy at the university instead put the email addresses in the “to” or “cc” field, revealing the entire list of staff in the pool. One Winchester academic who received the email told Times Higher Education that staff “were really, really shocked at the sudden release of all the names of those at risk of redundancy and appalled at this amateurish action”. In a follow-up email, seen by THE, Malcolm Willis, the director of human resources at Winchester, apologised “unreservedly” for the data breach. “Although it was an honest mistake, this is completely unacceptable and management action has been taken,” he said.

A senior cardiologist has been dropped from his editorship role at the journal Circulation Research after reportedly making homophobic complaints about a local ballet production. Ricardo Bolli, who remains chief of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Louisville, emailed the Louisville Ballet after receiving a promotional flyer for the company’s production of Human Abstract, which shows two male dancers in ballet leggings holding hands, Inside Higher Ed reported. The email, shared by the arts blog Arts Writing Is Dead, shows Professor Bolli to have written: “You have reached a new low. Your company is now promoting sodomy and homosexuality.” He went on to demand that the ballet’s “minions of Satan” stop sending “filth” and “sewage” to his house. The American Heart Association, which publishes Circulation Research, confirmed that the cardiologist had been dismissed “in light of public comments he has made [which are] alleged to be hate speech”. Professor Bolli claims that his words have been misrepresented, and in a response to the blog he said: “I certainly do not think queer people are minions of Satan.”

Another day, another plagiarism scandal involving senior politicians – this time in China. An AFP report found that 12 top Chinese Communist Party members, including a former vice-president, a supreme court judge and a former public security official, had all plagiarised parts of their university theses. The revelation comes at a particularly embarrassing moment for the government, which is in the midst of a crackdown on academic misconduct in the country. Last year, China’s State Council released its first national guidelines on academic research integrity with a warning that perpetrators would be “severely punished”. Whether this same doctrine will apply to high-ranking party members is yet to be seen, however.

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