The week in higher education – 3 March 2016

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

March 3, 2016
The week in higher education cartoon (3 March 2016)

Academics at a Texas university have been told to avoid “sensitive topics” once a law allowing students to take guns into class takes effect, The Guardian reported on 24 February. In a slideshow presented at the University of Houston, staff were advised to “drop certain topics from your curriculum” and “not ‘go there’ if you sense anger” in class in light of new “campus carry” laws. The advice, prepared by Houston’s faculty senate, also states that staff must not make “provocative statements” in class and should be “very guarded and careful” about this issue. Texas is the latest US state to pass laws forcing public universities to allow guns on certain parts of campus from August, although all its private universities have opted to ban firearms.

Houston was in the spotlight again as host of the latest debate on 25 February between contenders for the Republican nomination for the US presidency. But the only university to gain any attention that evening was Trump University, which Florida Senator Marco Rubio branded a “fake school”, the Daily Mail reported on 26 February. “There are people that borrowed $36,000 [£26,000] to go to Trump University, and they’re suing him now,” Mr Rubio said. “$36,000…and you know what they got? They got to take a picture with a cardboard cut-out of Donald Trump,” he added. The Donald was unabashed, but his rather feeble response that he had “won most of the lawsuit” clearly did not impress Mr Rubio. “Most of the lawsuit?” the trained lawyer queried, showing that Trump University may be the only way to effectively attack the seemingly bulletproof business tycoon.

The University of Groningen’s slogan, “Born leaders reach for infinity”, has been voted the stupidest university catchphrase in the Netherlands, the DutchNews website reported on 25 February. The memorable phrase finished top in an online poll by a staff and student group known as Platform for the Reform of Dutch Universities (HNU), whose competition elicited more than 3,200 responses. The University of Amsterdam’s somewhat cryptic cry of “We are U” was voted the second-most ridiculous slogan, just ahead of Leiden University’s “Excel in Freedom”, said HNU, which set up the poll to highlight the “pointless advertising” used in “money-wasting competition” between institutions. Groningen has now wisely changed its slogan, but its new motto, “Think Bold”, has already been criticised for not using English correctly. Surely it is only a matter of time before the wonderfully ambitious motto of the Chinese football club Guangzhou Evergrande (“Be the Best Forever”) is adopted by a university.

Students are calling for a 250ft (76m) statue of Margaret Thatcher to be erected at the University of Kent, the Metro reported on 24 February. Standing taller than the Statue of Liberty, the giant sculpture would be situated on a 50ft-high white marble plinth opposite the university’s nightclub if it is given the go-ahead, the paper says. “The placement across from the nightclub would encourage good and sensible behaviour under the gaze of the 250-foot colossus,” says the petition started by the university’s Conservative Association. Readers may have guessed the proposal was not entirely serious and was instead put forward to highlight the time wasted by students’ unions discussing petitions for far-fetched political goals. But Emilio Kyprianou, chairman of the Conservative club, said that it might still pursue the proposal. “This could be a real positive for Kent,” he said.

A “huge privacy row” has broken out at a University of Oxford college after one of its celebrity visiting fellows was secretly photographed by a student, the Daily Mail’s gossip columnist Sebastian Shakespeare gleefully reported on 26 February. Emma Watson, star of the Harry Potter films, was among 11 public figures unveiled as “non-academic” visiting fellows at Lady Margaret Hall three weeks ago by its principal, Alan Rusbridger. But the former Guardian editor has now written an “indignant letter” to students in which he mentions how a “sneak picture” of Ms Watson walking through the college library had appeared on Twitter, the Mail said. “I can’t think of anything more guaranteed to undermine the programme of visiting fellows than our students refusing to respect the privacy of our guests,” Mr Rusbridger is reported to have written.

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