The week in higher education – 2 July 2015

The good, the bad and the offbeat: the academy through the lens of the national press

July 2, 2015
The week in higher education cartoon (2 July 2015)

“A world expert in Nazi history has slammed Dundonians as ‘violent and abusive’ adding such behaviour is expected from a city which backed independence,” reported the Courier of Dundee on 25 June. Jill Stephenson, emeritus professor at the University of Edinburgh, had attracted the newspaper’s ire for a “bizarre online rant conflating the case of a drunken thug arrested on an aeroplane with support for a Yes vote” in last year’s referendum. Professor Stephenson tweeted: “On the news – the idiot who had to be offloaded from an aircraft when drunk, abusive and violent. He’s from Dundee. Yes city. No surprise.” Nearly a year on from the referendum, Scotland remains a happy and harmonious place.

The controversy over allegedly sexist remarks that cost Sir Tim Hunt his posts at University College London, the Royal Society and the European Research Council has now engulfed the academic who first reported his comments. Connie St Louis, director of City University London’s science journalism MA, tweeted Sir Tim’s comments about his “trouble with girls” at a conference in South Korea. On 24 June, The Times reported that notes on the speech by a European Commission official who was at the conference appear to confirm that he phrased the remarks as a joke. On 27 June, the Daily Mail reported that Ms St Louis’ CV on the City website made “demonstrably false” claims that she writes for the Independent, Daily Mail and The Sunday Times, while raising questions about other elements of her CV. City said in a statement: “We have spoken to Connie and are satisfied that her academic qualifications are correct. We will be working with her to update her profile page to include more recent publications and professional activities.” Ms St Louis claimed that the Mail article contained “inaccurate and misleading allegations”. Then, on 30 June, the Mail reported that University of Manchester physicist Sir Andre Geim had said that he had not expected City to take action against Ms St Louis: “No vice-chancellor would take on an ethnic-minority militant feminist.” To top that, veteran broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby has resigned a UCL honorary fellowship over Sir Tim’s treatment, The Times reported on 30 June. Will anyone else pile, or be pulled, into this gargantuan mega-spat?

Jeremy Warner, assistant editor of the Daily Telegraph, told readers on 25 June that there had been a big winner in the “public sector” despite government austerity: not overseas aid, but universities, thanks to the tripling of fees and the subsidy on student loans. “For a growing number of British students, for the taxpayer, and for the economy as a whole, it is obvious that these expenditures are a waste of money,” he said in a column, which cited a recent report from King’s College London’s Alison Wolf that criticises the government’s leaning towards funding higher instead of further education. Steve West, vice-chancellor of the University of the West of England and chair of the University Alliance, wrote an open letter to Professor Wolf and Mr Warner, arguing that the “universities described do not reflect ours” and highlighting Alliance institutions’ industry links. “We would be delighted to welcome you on to any of our campuses where you will experience something very different – and exciting,” he added. Mr Warner has already fixed up a visit to Teesside University, we’re sure.

The University of Warwick has named its next vice-chancellor as Stuart Croft, currently provost at the institution. Professor Croft, formerly a professor in international security and international relations, will replace Sir Nigel Thrift, who steps down in February 2016, it was announced on 29 June. Sir George Cox, pro-chancellor and chair of council and chair of the joint selection committee, said that an international search produced “an outstanding shortlist from which Professor Croft was chosen”. Professor Croft led last year’s investigation into Thomas Docherty, the Warwick English professor suspended for eight months after being accused of undermining his departmental boss with negative body language and sighs, but later cleared of all charges. If showing a sure grasp of procedure were on the person specification, Professor Croft would well and truly have ticked that box.

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