The week in higher education – 19 January 2023

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

January 19, 2023

Adrian Egli, director of the Institute of Medical Microbiology at the University of Zurich, wants to fill the Swiss army’s subterranean citadels with human faeces. Far from a prankster, Professor Egli is driven by a desire to preserve the excreta he has accumulated for the benefit of future generations. Most of the roughly 3,000 turds in his collection have come from Swiss bottoms, but he told The Times that those sent in from Puerto Rico and pastoral Ethiopia offer a scatological snapshot of pre-industrial gut bacteria. Professor Egli insisted that, like ice cores or crop seeds, the deep-frozen dung can become a reference library in a world of increasingly homogenous innards. While the great and the good may fret over the future of charismatic beasts at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the stool hoarder of Zurich will be hoping some spare a thought for the little guy. “If the elephant goes extinct, in terms of your own health you’re not having an obvious problem. If your microbiome is disturbed in a certain way, it can have tremendous consequences.”

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a sports car must be insecure about his penis. But does this trope of modern masculinity really bear scrutiny? Yes it does, according to UCL’s Daniel Richardson, whose preprint on the repository PsyArxiv seems to confirm the world’s sniggering suspicions. He asked 200 men to rate their desire for different products after being presented with seemingly irrelevant facts. After being primed with the idea that the average erect penis is either 10cm or 18cm long, participants were presented with a picture of a sports car. Younger men lusted after the vehicle regardless, but older men who were primed to see their member flatteringly (average length is 13cm) tended to be less covetous of the car. Professor Richardson told The Times this avenue of enquiry could go and go. “What are the scope of things that penis manipulation affects? Is it just cars? Is it also hunting equipment?” But despite the immeasurable opportunities for public engagement, the psychologist worried about the career path he is plotting: “I’m not sure I want to become Professor Penis.”

Like the rest of Earth, Florida is heating up. But in the Sunshine State, the political stakes rise as fast as the mercury. Governor Ron DeSantis is a leading contender for the US presidency in 2024, while the University of Florida has just hired another critic of former president Donald Trump, former Republican senator Ben Sasse, as president. Perhaps there should be less surprise then at the university spoiling its apposite appointment by spending $300,000 (£246,000) on a swimming pool for his presidential mansion. A university spokesman told The Gainesville Sun Dr Sasse had not asked for the watering hole nor given notes on its design. Dr Sasse may well need to cool off during his tenure – the university has been plagued by political interference from Mr DeSantis, such as tying public funding to surveys of staff and students’ personal opinions.

Ukrainian students are having a tough time of it. Let us be thankful then for the leniency shown to one such student by Moscow’s Higher School of Economics. Daria Medvedchuk was among three students who appeared to submit fake certificates of illness after missing an exam last summer, according to investigations by the independent news site Meduza. That sort of fraud would usually mean expulsion, but Ms Medvedchuk has the advantage of having Vladimir Putin as a godfather. After suspicions were raised, staff at the university said they were visited by a man and a woman “of a bandit-like appearance, in leather jackets and with evil eyes”, brandishing more certificates, alcohol and sweets. Ms Medvedchuk is still enrolled.

“You know exactly who it is you’d rather be doing it with in your filthiest fantasies. Our job is to bring those fantasies to life. Be it a sexy tutor, shredded gym crush, or even that one friend you’ve been too afraid to make a move on, we can make the magic happen.” Such was the premise of OxShag – a short-lived University of Oxford matchmaking site that pulled in institutional profiles without consent, The Times reported. It made eyes at surprised staff and students for just a day before being garrotted by the red tape of data protection. “Move fast and break things” was the famed motto of one-time Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerberg, whose $500 billion empire began with the simple desire to help his fellow students meet. In these more regulated times, creative destruction quickly returns to source.

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