This morning the vice chancellor sent a message to all staff of the University of Oxford: Dear Colleagues, I am writing to follow up on yesterday’s meeting in the Sheldonian which my colleagues have told me about. I was very sorry not to be there myself but I had scheduled a trip to New York on university business before the meeting of Congregation was called. In light of the depth of feeling of so many colleagues we will convene a special meeting of Council today at noon and will be recommending that Council reverse its response to the UUK survey in line with Congregation’s resolution.
As feared, 21 people stood up in Congregation today to block a debate and vote on revising Oxford's position on pension reform. At least some of the 21 were university administrators, and included the pro-vice chancellor for diversity, as well as other members of Council (the university's executive body). The vice chancellor was not there.
At 2 p.m. today the University of Oxford's legislative body, Congregation, will meet in the Sheldonian Theatre. All academic staff are members of Congregation, and any twenty of them can propose a resolution for debate. For consideration today is a resolution that would revise the university's submission to Universities UK's September consultation on staff pensions. Oxford, along with Cambridge, was among the 42 per cent of employers who called for the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) to take 'less risk', which in practice means a shift from a defined benefit to a defined contribution pension. It now appears that one-third of the employers calling for 'less risk' were constituent colleges of Oxford and Cambridge.
I first met Derek Parfit the summer I was 19, when my college boyfriend and I spent a day visiting Oxford. Parfit’s Reasons and Persons was the only thing written by a living person on our first-year philosophy syllabus at Yale. Passing All Souls College, we went to the porter’s lodge and asked, absurdly, if we could see him. The porter said Parfit was teaching a seminar in the Old Library. We stood outside the door, pressing our ears to it, hearing nothing but murmurs, debating whether or not to go in. Eventually the seminar ended and people started to file out. Realising we had no idea what Parfit looked like, we asked every man leaving the room if he was Derek Parfit. They all laughed: they must have been twenty-something graduate students. Finally, out came a man with a mane of white hair and a bright red tie tucked into his trousers, wielding a large Smirnoff vodka bottle. We introduced ourselves.
‘I envision a world in which a person with multiple disabilities can be euthanised, with an agreement from the guardians, when it is difficult for the person to carry out household and social activities.’ These are the words of Satoshi Uematsu, the 26-year-old man who killed 19 disabled men and women in a care home in a Tokyo suburb last month, in the biggest mass murder Japan has seen since the Second World War.
When I started my freshman year at Yale, in 2003, Locals 34 and 35 – the unions that represent Yale’s clerical, maintenance, custodial and food service workers – were on strike. As I moved into my dorm on Old Campus, I crossed a picket line. We all did. Some workers held up signs saying: ‘You should have gone to Harvard.’ There were no meals served in the dining halls; Yale gave us cash to eat out. Each morning we were woken up by chanting outside our neo-neo-Gothic windows: ‘What do we want? A CONTRACT! When do we want it? NOW!’ Early on we were addressed by the undergraduate dean, who cautioned us (after some stirring words about our being the best and the brightest) not to be in any rush to take sides on the current labour dispute – we had plenty of time, four blissful years, to think and reflect. It is widely recognised that Yale, the biggest employer in New Haven, Connecticut (the poorest city in the richest state) has the worst labour relations of any major university in the US; this strike was the eighth since 1968. Some freshmen ignored the dean’s advice and joined the strike, but the general mood, I remember, was one of entitled disgruntlement. Eventually a contract was agreed, the workers went back to work, and we started eating our meals in the dining halls.
The Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have just announced the birth of their first child, a daughter named Max. Procreation has apparently turned Zuckerberg’s thoughts towards his legacy. In ‘A letter to our daughter’ posted (where else?) on his Facebook page, Zuckerberg explains that he and Chan want their daughter to ‘grow up in a better world than ours today’. The post was ‘liked’ by more than a million people, including Melinda Gates, Shakira and Martha Stewart. In response to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s congratulations, Zuckerberg wrote that Max ‘is clearly going to be a Lean In girl!’, referring to Sandberg’s 2013 handbook for women who aspire to be CEOs.
At Crufts last week, as a five-year-old Scottish Terrier called Knopa (who competes under the name ‘McVan’s to Russia with Love’) was being awarded Best in Show, a protester stormed the floor holding a sign that read ‘Mutts against Crufts’, before being dragged off by security staff. PETA explained that the protest was against the practice of pedigree breeding, which leads to chronic health problems in purebred dogs as well as the neglect of mixed-breed dogs. (The BBC dropped its coverage of Crufts in 2008 after the Kennel Club refused to exclude from the competition some breeds particularly at risk because of generations of inbreeding.)
The Counterterrorism and Security Bill 2014-15 has all but completed its swift passage into law. Sponsored by Theresa May and Lord Bates of the Home Office, it promises to expand the state’s paranoid reach in predictable ways: new powers to seize passports and bar UK citizens from returning home; a requirement that internet service providers collect data on users; a provision that airlines and rail and shipping companies may have to seek permission from the Home Office to carry certain groups of people.
Serial is the world’s most popular podcast. It reached the five million download mark on iTunes in record time. It’s a spin-off from This American Life, which has been a staple of American public radio since the mid-1990s. Serial first aired as an episode of TAL in October, but now has its own home online. TAL is what you turn on when you’re doing the dishes. Serial demands to be listened to, then listened to again, compulsively, ritualistically; damn the dishes.