WORD OF MOUTH

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Where Nobel credit is due

The award of the Nobel Prize for Economics to James Mirrlees has sparked a skirmish of backbiting among Oxbridge dons. No one questions the merits of Professor Mirrlees as the noblest of Nobel winners. The behind-the- quads row revolves around which of the two universities should reap the credit. Mirrlees is Professor of Political Economy at Cambridge and it is with this title that he was named to share the pounds 750,000 prize with Professor William Vickrey of Columbia University (who, alas, died three days after the announcement). But Professor Mirrlees joined Trinity College, Cambridge, only a year ago, having spent the best part of his long and distinguished career as Edgeworth Professor of Economics at Oxford and Fellow of Nuffield College from 1968 until 1995. As the Oxford University Gazette discretely points out: "The Nobel Economics Committee usually recognises a lifetime of achievement." Some Oxford dons are more blatant, crying "we wuz robbed".

Over and Out

The goings and goings at the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals continue unabated. The university beaks' umbrella body had already suffered a 25 per cent staff turnover in a matter of months. This ratio now stands at about 33 per cent with two further major losses: Catherine Benfield, the CVCP's remaining statistician, has resigned to move to the Higher Education Statistics Agency. The CVCP had just advertised for a replacement,but not for her. Things moved much too fast and they've only tried filling the gap left by Sally-Ann Goold, Ms Benfield's deputy. An even more severe blow to chief-executive Diana Warwick has been the resignation of her own personal assistant, Cheryl Clark, who has decided to return home to South Africa. Looking at it positively, the CVCP's losses will be a gain for classified ads departments.

Chancellor Royal

Most university chancellors are wheeled out once a year for graduation ceremonies and believe their duty done. Not so the Princess Royal, Chancellor of the University of London. In the past academic year, she has officiated at more than a dozen events, opening the exciting Brunei Gallery at the School of Oriental and African Studies; studios at the Slade School of Fine Art; an extension to the Wellcome Library, and a new laboratory for Imperial College. She also presided at London University's Foundation Day, conferring honorary degrees at a moving ceremony that had Dr Richard von Weizsacker, the former German president, sharing the platform with Auschwitz survivor Rabbi Hugo Gryn who made one of his last public appearances before his death.

Cleric's or

clerical error

When the Rev Dr Duane Arnold was inaugurated two years ago as principal of St Chad's College, part of Durham University, he was installed with unprecedented pomp, incense and all, at Durham's magnificent cathedral. Little did anyone guess then that both he and his wife Janet, the university's director of development, would be on indefinite "leave of absence" for at least three months while the future of their posts was being considered. Also, on Guy Fawkes' day, the university council decided to set up a committee "to review the constitutional relations it has with its independent colleges" (apart from St Chad's, there's only one other - St John's).

When I met Dr Arnold at a recent dinner at St Chad's, I asked him why he had left his native America for Durham. "The college needed me," he replied modestly. So why does it appear no longer to need him? Then the bombshell dropped. His Who's Who entry was found to be riddled with "clerical errors" (his description) involving his academic qualifications - qualifications he does possess but from far less renowned institutions. Then there was his Master of Divinity degree from Philadelphia University. There's no such university. Yet his PhD from Durham itself is genuine enough. Perhaps it was all a case of self-aggrandisement, as reflected by the modesty of his response to my question. The 280 students at St Chad's, a church foundation which used to train Anglican priests, have passed motions of no confidence and decried his style of management. Now many are wearing T-shirts emblazoned with "The original clerical error" on the front and "St Chad's College, University of Philadelphia" on the back.

And finally...

Ofsted, whose "inspections" often abuse schools and colleges alike, is now being used as a verb. A lecturer at a southern university was overheard greeting a colleague from the teacher education department: "You look awful! Have you been ofsteded?"

Ironic footnote; Professor Mirrlees has been known to voice his objections to prizes awarded to academics. He believed sufficient reward was obtained by successful research. Perhaps so. But then the Nobel, the supreme accolade, must be an exception.

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