Fourth degree by Laurie Taylor – 23 May 2019

All campus life is here

May 23, 2019
Source: iStock/Getty/Alamy

Paws for thought

Laurie Taylor reports

Dogs are beginning to play an increasing role in UK universities.

At Middlesex University, five Labradors with their very own ID badges have been trained as “canine teaching assistants” in order to reduce student anxiety, while at the University of East Anglia, students have been offered the chance to take a dog for a walk in a bid to reduce stress during the exam season.

Not all these canine developments have been restricted to students. In what has been described as “an exciting experiment”, the gold-rated University of Old Sarum has extended the practice to members of academic staff.

From the beginning of this month, one full-grown pit bull terrier has been allocated to each of the major university faculties. According to Old Sarum’s vice-chancellor, the dogs – each of which will bear an ID badge with the inscription “on-site manager” – will be there to provide academics with “a four-legged reminder” of their “core duties”.

Not all members of academic staff at Old Sarum have responded positively to this initiative. One lecturer claimed to have suffered a deep gash to his right ankle while he was briefly socialising with a colleague in the photocopying room, while another told Fourth Degree that he’d been “seriously disconcerted” by the pit bull terrier that crouched in the corridor outside his tutorial room, barking: “REF! REF!”


Needing an NDA

Considerable concern has recently been expressed over the amount of money being spent by universities on non-disclosure agreements. Ulster University has been particularly in the limelight following the news that it lavished £226,000 on “gagging clauses” for staff in 2017. Might such payments at Ulster and elsewhere have been inappropriately used as a way of protecting perpetrators of serious misconduct?

A possible answer to this vexed question has been provided by a leak from the University College of Daventry, which reveals that an NDA worth £75,000 was recently signed by a Dr Rex Phillips of the Department of Practical Theology, who, according to the leak, had been dismissed from the university for a long-range attempt to assassinate his vice-chancellor.

Although this attempt was unsuccessful, the university, in a secret report, claimed that an NDA was necessary in order to prevent the disclosure of the “commercially sensitive news” that the vice-chancellor had now forsaken his traditional academic dress in favour of a bulletproof vest.


Honourable discharge

Are honorary degrees in trouble?

That is the question prompted by the news that King’s College London and the University of Aberdeen are giving serious consideration to rescinding the honorary degrees they awarded to the Sultan of Brunei, following his recent announcement that gay sex would be a capital offence.

But according to Sir Ted Edwards, vice-chancellor of the Episcopalian University of North Somerset, this is very much a case of “locking the stable door after the honorary horse has already bolted”.

Is there an alternative solution?

Sir Ted believes he has found one. “From now on, all our honorary degrees will be ‘subject to approval’,” he said. “This means that an honour will be automatically rescinded if the recipient fails to live up to the honourable behaviour that had originally prompted the award.”

His only regret was that his university had failed to initiate this reform at an earlier date and thereby avoided the unfortunate publicity that had been generated by his university’s historic decisions to award honorary degrees to Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Attila the Hun (in absentia).

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