The week in higher education – 18 February 2016

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

February 18, 2016
The week in higher education cartoon (18 February 2016)

A fugitive goat that escaped from a university research laboratory has become a “four-legged celebrity” in America’s Midwest, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reported. During its 10 days on the run from the University of Iowa’s Research Park in Coralville this month, the goat, nicknamed “William”, gained a cult following after its mugshot was released, as well as its own Twitter account. His sightings have even sparked a debate on the use of animal testing at universities. However, after a chase thought to have cost almost $10,000 (£6,900), William will be returning to the laboratory where he is part of a $1 million research project on osteoarthritis, the university said. “Because the animal is part of ongoing, federally funded research, the University of Iowa is not in a position to consider offers,” a spokesman told the Cedar Rapids-based Gazette.

The discovery of gravitational ripples – predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago – was hailed by the Independent on 12 February as “one of the greatest achievements in human history”. “Gravitational-wave observatories will be akin to the fictional X-ray vision of Superman, revealing vistas of the hidden cosmos, almost back to the beginning of time itself,” explained the paper’s science editor, Steve Connor. However, attention soon turned to more down-to-earth matters, such as who should gain credit for the feat – and, more pertinently, the Nobel prize. Should it be the army of scientists who worked at the US’ Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (Ligo) over the past 25 years or its three founders? While Ligo should “sweep the board” when it comes to other science prizes, its original “troika” (including Scottish physicist Ronald Drever) should be the ones to pick up the Nobel prize, most scientists believed, reported The Guardian on 12 February.

A poster campaign asking students to check their “size privilege” has left many baffled over what the politically correct campaign is talking about, a National Review Online blog reported on 11 February. The “check your privilege” statement is generally levelled at white, affluent males who pass comment on subjects without reflecting on their own backgrounds, but Southern Oregon University, in the US, has now expanded the potential list of “privileges” to consider, the blog said. In posters plastered around campus, students are told to check whether they are “white, male, [middle] class, Christian, neuro-typical [non-autistic], cisgender [non-transgender], able-bodied and heterosexual”, the Review said. But the “size privilege” also referenced in the posters was a step too far for the blog’s writer, who accused the campaign itself of being “body negative”. “Seriously, just what in the hell is ‘size privilege’ supposed to mean, anyway?”, said Katherine Timpf, adding that “we are all supposed to know that bodies of all sizes are equally beautiful”.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of a university degree has been blamed for many things, including his supposed “purge of the Oxbridge set” in his shadow ministerial appointments – a charge that he tackled head-on in an interview with Times Higher Education last week. Now a new book, Comrade Corbyn: A Very Unlikely Coup – How Jeremy Corbyn Stormed to the Labour Leadership, has suggested that the Islington MP’s unbending socialism over the years is a direct result of his not entering higher education after school. “By going on Voluntary Services Oversea [to Jamaica] rather than to university at the age of 18, his political views were arrested, to the extent that he has failed to move on intellectually since his teenage years,” a “friend” told the book’s author, Rose Prince, who was quoted in the Evening Standard on 11 February. How very unlike our current prime minister, whose time at university transformed beyond recognition the politics of a stockbroker’s son who once camped out on the Mall aged 14 to watch Charles and Diana’s wedding.

Criminal trials are set to be held in universities after ministers signed off the closure of nearly 20 per cent of court properties in England and Wales, The Daily Telegraph reported on 12 February. Ministers hope to raise £40 million by selling 86 courts as part of a £700 million revamp of the justice system, the paper said. Criminal or civic hearings will take place in alternative venues including “civic buildings, universities and community centres”, the Ministry of Justice said. However, magistrates claimed that the closures would have a “biting impact on court users” who relied on public transport, while universities may not be best pleased if their campuses become synonymous, in some minds, with an extended stretch behind bars.

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