The week in higher education – 9 May 2019

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

May 9, 2019

Just when we thought the US college admissions scandal couldn’t shock us any more, the Los Angeles Times offered a timely reminder of the lengths that some rich people are prepared to go to in the name of education. A report by the newspaper claimed that the family of one Chinese student admitted to Stanford University in 2017 paid a jaw-dropping $6.5 million (£5 million) bribe to win her the place. At the heart of the scandal is consultant William “Rick” Singer, who has pleaded guilty to orchestrating a scheme in which he rigged students’ entrance exams and bribed college coaches to save university places reserved for athletic scholarships. The family in question has so far not faced charges.

The much-anticipated Augar review of post-18 education in England has made no shortage of headlines even before its delivery. But just in case the sector wasn’t riled enough already, an education minister has thrown further fuel on to the fire. One of the recommendations expected from the report is a ruling that students who do not achieve three Ds at A level will not qualify for a loan. But Lord Agnew, the minister for school systems, told a conference that the very idea of students going to university with E grades at A level was “madness” in any case. “Why are we letting kids go to university with three Es at A levels? I mean, why? It’s lunacy,” he told an audience of private school teachers. “Unfortunately…as a government you just have to suck it up basically and just keep plodding forward and that’s what we do.”

Students at Colorado State University have been urged not to partake in an unofficial campus “Undie Run” this month, for sparking fears that it could “risk…sexual misconduct”. The event, which takes place every year, traditionally involves students making a dash across campus in their underwear to celebrate the end of term. But nervous campus officials anticipate “an atmosphere of public intoxication and behaviour that risks…injury to others and sexual misconduct”, The Denver Post reported. “Past participants, particularly women, have reported groping and sexual assault during the run and at after-parties,” a statement read. As for any acknowledgement that such unwanted groping should not be tolerated, with or without clothes on, Colorado State clearly didn’t get the memo.

In further depressing news for women, the University of Cambridge came under fire for allowing an event hosted by the self-proclaimed anti-feminist group Justice for Men and Boys. The move has been criticised for making people feel unsafe on campus, and a letter signed by more than 300 staff, students and alumni has called for the event to be cancelled, The Guardian reported. Writing to Stephen Toope, Cambridge’s vice-chancellor, academics accused the men’s group of shaming rape survivors and harassing female academics on previous occasions. Mike Buchanan, a former Tory Party consultant, hit back that the letter was “just a tactic to deny us freedom of speech”. Cambridge defended the right to free speech on campus and said that “unpopular views” were not grounds for cancelling the event.

Meanwhile, pressure from activists at Swarthmore College in the US has led to the disbanding of its two college fraternities. Student activists stormed the house leased to Phi Psi fraternity as part of a protest that lasted several days. The demonstrations were prompted by the release of internal documents in which members of the men-only society group boasted about sexual violence and referred to one of the bedrooms in the house as a “rape attic”. Bowing to pressure, Phi Psi said that it would “seek to address the harm caused to the community” and announced its closure, Inside Higher Ed reported. Delta Upsilon, the campus’ other fraternity, followed suit. The college said it would investigate any formal complaints of sexual violence.

A University of Cambridge researcher has been sacked over his alleged connections with the far right. St Edmund’s College announced that it had dismissed Noah Carl, whose appointment as the college’s Toby Jackman Newton Trust junior research fellow prompted complaints by staff and students. More than 1,000 people signed an open letter attacking the scholar’s publications on race and intelligence, which they said “legitimise racist stereotypes”. Matthew Bullock, master of St Eddie’s, said that a review of the papers in question had found that Dr Carl “had collaborated with a number of individuals who were known to hold extremist views”.

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