The week in higher education – 19 October 2017

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

October 19, 2017
The week in higher education

Sad news arrived from the University of Nottingham as it announced that a garden snail whose love life captured the imagination of a nation had died. Jeremy – a “one-in-a-million mutant snail” thanks to his rare left-coiling shell – shot to fame when his handler, Nottingham scientist Angus Davison, appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme to appeal for a mate for his lonely “leftie” snail. The snail “shellebrity” quickly gained cult status: one fan penned a tragic love ballad about Jeremy’s plight and another had a tattoo of the leftie-coil in his honour. Jeremy’s burgeoning celebrity, however, appeared to have little effect on potential mates. Two potential leftie beaux couriered from Ipswich and Majorca preferred each other and produced more than 300 tiny snail babies between them, although Jezza was later to mate with the Spanish import after his love rival returned to Suffolk. Shell-shocked fans of Jeremy can pay their final respects at the Natural History Museum, where his shell will be displayed.


They’ve targeted Hillary Clinton and so-called Hollywood “luvvies”, but are right-wing trolls in the US now out to get liberal college professors? The question has arisen on US campuses after numerous history professors were sent a mysterious email purportedly from a high school student asking them about the 19th-century German historian Leopold von Ranke, known primarily for his musing on whether history could ever be an objective discipline. The strange mass email has piqued the interest of scholars who fear that it may be the work a right-wing sting operation designed to discredit left-wing academics. “This was most definitely an insincere inquiry,” Lora Burnett, a teaching fellow in history at the University of Texas at Dallas, told Inside Higher Ed on 10 October, speculating that it may be “fishing/trolling by a [right-wing] outlet looking to create a fake-scandal headline: ‘Liberal Professors Don't Believe in Objective Truth About Past’ or some such nonsense”. If so, it would certainly be one of the more high-minded and theoretical efforts at fake news – and unlikely to lead the Fox News bulletin any time soon.


Speaking of America’s right-wing news sites, they couldn’t hold themselves back when a video of a professor jumping up and down and yelling “No pomegranates! No, no, no, no, no pomegranates” emerged online. Breitbart covered the footage of Jane Martino, a psychology professor at Des Moines Area Community College as “Iowa Professor Goes on Bizarre Rant About Pomegranates”, prompting one reader to comment that “In my personal experience, psychology professors are all nuts. Sociology professors hate society, and psychology professors hate themselves,” Inside Higher Ed reported on 16 October. However, Dr Martino was not enforcing a classroom rule, but was instead offering an example of negative reinforcement, which was put into context in a subsequent – and unfilmed – discussion. “Don’t judge someone by a little 20-second video,” said Bernardo Pantoja, one of Dr Martino’s students.


An Italian academic has won a legal battle for sick pay for the time she took off to look after her poorly dog, The Guardian reported on 12 October. The scholar at the Sapienza University of Rome, who has not been named, brought her case with the help of Italy’s Anti-Vivisection League (LAV), after taking two days off to care for her 12-year-old English setter following surgery. A judge accepted the lawyers’ case that her employer should put her absence down to “serious or family personal reasons”. Her lawyers highlighted a provision in Italy’s penal code that says people who abandon an animal to “grave suffering” can be jailed for a year and fined up to €10,000 (£8,864). “It is a significant step forward that recognised that animals that are not kept for financial gain or their working ability are effectively members of the family,” said LAV president Gianluca Felicetti.


For many students, the start of the academic year offers a chance to become reacquainted with all of the glamorous local nightspots that have been missed so much over the summer break. A group of students in Birmingham, however, swapped cheesy music for cheese and onion slices as they held an impromptu party in a branch of Greggs bakery, the Birmingham Mail reported on 12 October. Strobe lights glared and house music boomed at the event, organised by undergraduate Nikki Gardner, where attendees were treated to complimentary steak bakes, sausage rolls and doughnuts, plus free alcohol. Of course, why Greggs would want to host the event is a good question, but the national press column inches that followed probably offer a good clue.

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