The week in higher education – 28 October 2021

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

October 28, 2021

Voter suppression is nothing new in the United States, nor in many other Western democracies, but Tufts University researchers have found that several hundred US college campuses and other residential communities housing US students are split by gerrymandering techniques – directly diluting students’ voting power in ways that may violate federal law. The analysis by the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education at Tufts revealed that hundreds of US campuses and surrounding communities – most of them found in Republican-controlled states – displayed jagged lines in their voting district boundaries, which has long been seen as a clear sign of gerrymandering; they are likely to have been drawn with computerised precision. Nancy Thomas, director of the institute, said that the jagged lines were “pretty obvious” as a sign of gerrymandering and that the issue could potentially be challenged in court because federal law does not allow such tactics if they are seen to prohibit certain groups who enjoy specific protections under the constitution, which can be based on factors such as race and age.

British universities are coming under attack for some spectacularly ineffective and often “tone deaf” reactions to a spate of drink spiking in nightclubs, which is being called an “epidemic”. The Guardian reported that approximately 200 incidents of spiking had been reported to the police in the previous two months, according to the National Police Chiefs’ Council. There had also been 24 reports of people being injected with possible drugs and/or poisons. The reaction of many universities has been heavily criticised, in particular Durham University, which posted messages on Twitter and Instagram containing large text telling its students “don’t get spiked” and that “drink spiking is dangerous and something that you can prevent from happening to you and your friends”. This prompted widespread accusations of victim blaming, including from Durham’s student union president, Seun Twins, who wrote on Twitter: “This victim blaming messaging is extremely dangerous. What was this supposed to achieve other than to divert attention away from predators and predatory behaviour?? Disappointed for the umpteenth time.”

A new study has disproved the commonly held modern view that Eastern bloc academics during the Cold War were forced to cite Lenin, Stalin and Marx in order to avoid their research papers being censored. Researchers based at the Adam Mickiewicz University and Pedagogical University of Krakow, both in Poland, studied the citation patterns of thousands of documents published on Polish media history in the 60 years after the Second World War. They found that such unquestioning deference was “extremely rare” among academics – in Polish media history at least – with just 64 of the 1,874 total mentions of the Soviet powerhouses being a reference to them as an “unquestionable authority” rather than a regular academic citation. Furthermore, the practice had faded “almost completely” by the 1980s, according to the research. Emanuel Kulczycki, co-author of the research, said the study was conceived to investigate the common claim that Marx and others would be “highly cited researchers” if Soviet journals were included in modern citation databases.

Two colleges in Minnesota are investigating after being hit by reports that students had instigated an alleged sex competition, according to the Associated Press. The College of St Benedict and St John’s University, the former of which is attended by women and the latter by men, are looking into reports that male students had begun a contest to see who could have the most sexual encounters with female students. The two HEIs are Roman Catholic and partner schools, and a spokeswoman for both said: “We will not tolerate sexual misconduct in any form. We are utilizing trained, impartial, third party investigators to determine the responsible parties.” Reporting on the stories stated that it was not “immediately clear” whether there had been any criminal acts linked to the investigations, such as sexual assault.

A female student and lacrosse star has died in the US after choking to death at a tragic hot dog-eating contest. Madelyn Nicpon, a student at Tufts University of Massachusetts, was participating in the off-campus competition with friends when she began choking and fell unconscious. Despite being rushed to hospital she died the following day, according to The Mirror. Shortly afterwards, her university released a statement saying: “In the face of this painful loss, our hearts go out to Madie’s family and friends…Last night, approximately 3,000 students, faculty and staff gathered at the Gantcher Centre to remember Madie and to support each other in our grief, then processed by candlelight to Bello Field, where Madie had spent many hours with her teammates and friends.”

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