Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cambridge University dons get advice on the intricacies of the handshake

Cambridge University is so desperate to avoid upsetting foreign students that it has cautioned its academics against automatically shaking their hands in case it causes offence.

The world renowned institution has sent out a directive to its admission tutors explaining that some people are culturally sensitive to the traditional style of greeting. They advise that "suitable body language conveys welcome just as well".

The missive sent out by the university's Cambridge University Admissions Office has caused anger and consternation among the dons who say it is treating them like "social misfits". "It seems to be totally bonkers," said a don who wished to remain anonymous.

"We are not social misfits. We know when to shake someone's hand and when not too. All this seems to be stupid and pointless and could make interviews even more awkward."

The advice is given on an "online training course to interviewers" in addition to the Undergraduate Admissions Handbook 2011-12. Academics were sent an alert advising them to read the instructions.

Under the headline: "Welcoming the Applicant" the instructions add: "There is a certain amount of cultural sensitivity relating to handshakes. Suitable body language conveys welcome just as well." No further advice is given but the press office yesterday said that the instructions applied to Muslim women and certain people with disabilities.

"It is not banning handshakes, it is just saying that best practice in some cases such as Muslim women who do not want to shake hands and certain people with disabilities," said a spokesman. "Dons should read the situation properly and bear in mind that not all people will want to shake hands."

The instructions seems to relate to the growing multicultural nature of admissions to British universities. Some 280,760 international students were admitted to universities last year – more than double the number a decade ago.

But the instructions still felt patronising and overly politically correct to a number of academics. "This is ridiculous," one said. "It would be obvious if someone objected to handshakes and we would know what to do. We don't need instructions."

Another academic said: "The more you police these things and try to transcend normal instinctive forms of interaction, the more terrifying they get all around."

Sally Hunt, the University College Union general secretary, said: "While I am sure this advice is well-intentioned, academics are grown-ups and are intelligent enough to know when to shake a person's hand or not. "What matters is that potential students from all backgrounds are made to feel welcome and given an equal opportunity to show their potential."

Expert advice on cultural relations suggests that most people around the world have no objection to the handshake although they may prefer other types of greet.

Some religions, such as Orthodox Judaism and Islam, may object to being touched by a member of the opposite sex. Other cultures may object to shaking hands if one of the people involved has a cold or other contagious disease.

One adviser suggests that if there is any doubt then a smile may be the best alternative. No one, anywhere, ever takes offence with that friendly act, he adds.


Cutting British dole for those who fail to take up jobs 'goes against human rights'

Plans to cut the dole for people who refuse to look for work could be contrary to their human rights, MPs warned last night.

Ministers want to impose a condition that those who are able to look for or prepare for work should be required to do so as a condition of receiving benefit – and those who do not should face a financial sanction.

But the parliamentary Human Rights Joint Committee has decided that to do so could put the human rights of the ‘unemployable’ at risk.

They also said that taking away jobseekers’ allowance from these people could plunge some families into destitution – something which would amount to ‘inhuman or degrading treatment’.

The committee also criticised Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s plan to impose a welfare cap of £26,000 a year, to ensure that families on benefits do not receive more than the average worker.

And they said taking sickness benefit away from people after an assessment could also have a ‘discriminatory impact’.

It means the committee believes Mr Duncan Smith’s new provisions could potentially be challenged in the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights.

Discussing the threat to cut the dole of the workshy, the report said: ‘We believe there is a risk that the conditionality and sanction provisions in the Bill might in some circumstances lead to destitution, such as would amount to inhuman or degrading treatment contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights, if the individual concerned was genuinely incapable of work.’

However, it added: ‘We do not consider that making benefits conditional on compliance with work-related requirements is in breach of the prohibition on servitude and forced labour in Article 4 of the ECHR.’

On plans to reassess people on incapacity benefit, it added: ‘We are concerned that some of the proposals… may be implemented in a way which could lead to a discriminatory impact and which does not demonstrate a reasonable relationship of proportionality between the means employed and the legitimate aim that is sought to be realised.’

The report also criticised the housing benefit cap, saying it was wrong for the government to set the level of the cap with reference to the average income of all households. Instead, the reference should be the average income of households with children.

It added: ‘We are also particularly concerned about the possible disparate impact on some disabled people and we recommend allowing some additional discretion to exempt disabled people facing exceptional hardship from the benefit cap and from the provisions concerning under-occupation of social housing.’

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: ‘This Bill has been open to an unprecedented level of examination from stakeholders, members of the public to politicians, which we believe will help ensure these reforms give us a welfare system fit for the 21st century.

‘The changes to the welfare system will protect those who need the most help, with more support, whilst encouraging others to take responsibility for their own lives and the lives of their families.’


The BBC gets something right

Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, has been forced to go to bat for Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson after the television host jokingly suggested striking public sector workers should be shot in front of their own families. Yep. That sounds like Clarkson to us.

According to the UK's Guardian and Telegraph dailies, members of the UK Parliament then began calling for the government-owned BBC to oust Jezza, with Labor Party member Jim Sheridan asking whether or not Clarkson was a luxury the BBC couldn't afford. Around 32,000 people sent complaints to the network about the host's disparaging remarks, but Thompson countered, suggesting that Clarkson is one of the UK's chief cultural exports at the moment.

The BBC executive also said far more people would be upset to see the gregarious host disappear from Top Gear than had complained about his flippant remarks.

This is just the latest episode in a long line of Clarkson's skirmishes with various nationalities, religions and organizations, but it doesn't look like the British personality is going anywhere any time soon.


A Norwegian Christmas — Not!

Some parents of children at a Norwegian primary school were undisturbed by the scrubbing of traditional Christmas content from these year’s school celebration — which has been renamed “Winter Marking”. But others were upset that their children were forced to take off their traditional red caps and miss the customary visit by Santa Claus.

Our Norwegian correspondent PN has translated an article about the controversy from
Fifth-graders at Øren school in Drammen were invited to a Christmas celebration to end the school term, but ended up with “Winter Marking” and were not allowed to wear red caps [nisselue, traditional/national red cap symbolic of Norway—translator].

Thursday last week the fifth graders at Øren primary school were invited to Christmas celebration [Tradition, Santa Clauses come and hand out small packets of candy, oranges etc.; children walk around the tree, and sing songs — translator].

Several of the children had dressed up with red caps and Christmas dresses. This did not go down well.

“The pupils were informed by the teacher that they were not to wear red caps. My daughter and several other children decided not to listen to that order and came wearing a red cap. She was then told to remove the cap as she had to consider all those with a different culture and faith,” says Vibeke Alm Thoen to VG Nett.

Winter Marking

After everyone arrived and the teachers had welcomed them, they clearly stated that from now on it would no longer be called a Christmas celebration, but should be named Winter Marking.

Several of the children had dressed up with both caps and red freckles, and were of course greatly disappointed when they were told there would be no Christmas carols sung.

“I think this whole thing is strange and the message came as a surprise to most parents. It’s surreal that they sang Trond Viggo Torgersen’s “Tenke sjæl” [song title: Think for yourself — translator]. There is nothing religious behind Santa Claus; the school should know that,” says Alm Thoen. To VG Nett she says that she has had children at the school for fourteen years, but has never experienced anything similar.

“I think its straight up nasty that the kids are told to take off their caps. This doesn’t belong anywhere,” says Alm Thoen.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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