The week in higher education – 6 February 2020

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

February 6, 2020
Cartoon 6 February 2020

One of TV’s best-known academics, Mary Beard, decided that the only way to properly explore the history of the nude in art for a new programme was to sit for her own naked portrait. Award-winning artist Catherine Goodman spent six hours over three sessions creating several charcoal portraits of Professor Beard so that the University of Cambridge classicist could discuss the experience with viewers of Shock of the Nude, according to The Guardian. Professor Beard said it was “impossible” to remain fully clothed in order to examine the subject matter. “I felt like that was insincere and that people would say: ‘We’ve had all this about power relationship and the vulnerability of the nude – you never got vulnerable, did you dear.’ So I had to do it.” Professor Beard, who claimed in an interview with the Radio Times that the nude was always in danger of becoming “soft porn for the elite”, said that in the event posing for the portrait had been “very relaxing”. Professor Beard, who claimed in an interview with the Radio Times that the nude was always in danger of becoming “soft porn for the elite”, said that in the event posing for the portrait had been “very relaxing”.


When a university in the US decided to hire a new “offensive coordinator” for their American football team, it seems the job title may have been taken a bit literally. Morris Berger resigned just days into the job at Grand Valley State University in Michigan after telling the university’s student newspaper that he would choose Adolf Hitler as a historical figure he would like to have dinner with. He told the paper that Hitler had “bad motives, but the way he was able to lead was second to none”, Inside Higher Ed reported. Mr Berger apologised in a statement on Twitter, saying he “mistakenly communicated something absurd” in a “poor effort to give an outside the box” answer. The team’s head coach, Matt Mitchell, said in a statement that there was nothing in reference checks to predict the “unfortunate controversy that has unfolded”. Using a different word to describe the forwards in American football perhaps might help in future.


It used to be the Duke of York who tended to get pilloried for his use of helicopters to get around (hence the nickname “Air Miles Andy”), but now that Prince Andrew has moved into a different league when it comes to controversy, his brother the Prince of Wales has instead come in for some scrutiny. According to the Sunday Mirror, Prince Charles flew 125 miles by helicopter from his Highgrove estate in Gloucestershire to the University of Cambridge to tell students: “We have run out of time now to rescue this poor old planet from man-made emissions.” He is said to have then flown a further 50 miles to see the Queen at Sandringham. His press spokesman said the prince was not personally involved in transportation decisions but had said before that as “soon as there is a more sustainable way of making these journeys, he’ll be the first to use it”. We look forward to seeing Charles on the 1.29pm from Stroud next week.


Union members at 74 UK universities are to strike for 14 days over February and March in the latest escalation of the dispute over pay, pensions and conditions. The University and College Union said that the action would start on 20 February and escalate each week, culminating in a week-long walkout. The strike dates are 20-21 February, 24-26 February, 2-5 March, and 9-13 March. The action will cover 14 more universities than the eight-day walkout before Christmas after further UCU branches crossed the 50 per cent turnout threshold required for industrial action. The union said that it would re-ballot members after this wave of strikes, if the disputes are not resolved, to allow action to continue to the end of the academic year. “We have been clear from the outset that we would take serious and sustained industrial action if that was what was needed,” said general secretary Jo Grady.


A US university came under fire when an essay competition launched to mark Martin Luther King Jr Day – a national holiday in the country – produced winning entries that were all written by white students. Inside Higher Ed reported that more than 1,000 people took to social media to criticise the University of Montana for being “tone-deaf” and “shameful” and to call the contest a “colorblind mess”. Tobin Miller Shearer, the Martin Luther King Jr Day committee chairman, said the contest was intended to encourage participation by students from all backgrounds, but they realised that the result of the competition might be “problematic” when they were faced with just six entries, all from white students.

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