Fourth Degree by Laurie Taylor – 13 June 2019

All campus life is here

June 13, 2019
Angel
Source: Alamy (edited)

Austerity measures hit God

Laurie Taylor reports

“Whither religious studies?” It’s a question that is increasingly asked following the publication of a British Academy report revealing that there were about 6,500 fewer students in the UK enrolled on such courses in 2017-18 compared with 2011-12.

This “religious deficit” is already having an effect at some of our major universities. At the University College of North Walsall, one senior member of the theology department, the Reverend D. D. Sumpner, explained his concerns. “Although we’ve done our best to make up for staff losses by omitting some course elements that are not at the cutting edge of contemporary theology, we are currently quite unable to compensate for the loss of our specialist lecturer on the Holy Ghost. To put it in stark terms, our theology students will now be graduating without any specialist knowledge of the third person of the Trinity.”

However, the institution’s vice-chancellor, Brigadier R. R. Harris, dismissed such concerns. “I have nothing at all against the Holy Ghost,” he told Fourth Degree. “Indeed, when my staffing committee met, there was a vigorous discussion about the significance of the Holy Spirit and in the end it was only when an erudite committee member pointed out that omitting the Holy Ghost still left two other persons in the Holy Trinity that it was decided to proceed with this modification to the theology curriculum.”

He denied that this numerical approach to theology staffing might have implications for such other aspects of that curriculum such as the Feeding of the Five Thousand or the Four Last Things Ever To Be Remembered.


We have ways of making you listen

“About time too.” That was how several academics responded to the news that David Peña-Guzmán, assistant professor in humanities at San Francisco State University, forced his students to part with their phones and laptops so as to ensure their undivided attention during his extended class on existentialism.

Gordon Oldfield, senior lecturer in no-deal Brexit studies at the Sacred Heart University of Uttoxeter, told Fourth Degree that he had already adopted the San Francisco model for his own classes but had added a couple of additional aids to concentration. His students were required to give up their watches and were then bound to their chairs with industrial tape so as to minimise non-goal-related limb movement.

He dismissed critics who had described these measures as reminiscent of the worst excesses of the Spanish Inquisition. “Quite frankly, such people are still clinging to the noble but seriously outdated pedagogic view that the optimum way to secure student attention is to say something interesting,” he said.


Lies, damned lies and prospectuses

Anxiety has been aroused at a number of universities by Anglia Ruskin University’s agreement to pay a former student £15,000 in “settlements” and to make a £46,000 contribution towards her legal costs – even though it denies her claim that its prospectus “fraudulently misrepresented” the career prospects of graduates of the “Mickey Mouse” business degree on which she was enrolled.

According to one head of public relations at a second-rate north-eastern university, the contention that a university prospectus should precisely reflect the actual quality of an institution or course “might set a dangerous precedent”.

However, he admitted that following the Anglia Ruskin settlement, the next edition of his own university prospectus would insert the phrase “probably not” before its claim to be “the best university in the world”.


Editorial footnote

We would like to thank the 435 dons who have written to Fourth Degree with detailed accounts of why the new audit culture in higher education is leading them to abandon academic life. We are pleased to announce that 32 per cent of these letters have been graded “gold” by our assessment team.

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