University Urban Legends and Cock-ups
The following are a collection of stories I've heard over the years from various people, some of them over a beer or three too many or a coffee. They are pub or bar banter if you like and to be taken with a pinch of salt. It also happens that in the case of, for example, "The Transvestite University" and "The Naming Scandal" that these stories are based on actual events that were even in part reported in the local press when they happened. As you can gather from the following, I've spent a lot of time in the North of England where I heard most of the below.
In the case of the stories that are "Just Tales that People Tell", I have to add the following disclaimer. The events described are just stories and any similarity to actual events is purely coincidental. Even the stories under "Urban Legends that Actually Have Some Truth In Them" may have become elaborated on and been modified by a bad case of the "Chinese Whispers" as time has gone on, even by the time they've been reported on, partially or fully, in a newspaper or on television.
This whole page is meant as nothing more that a little poking fun at the bizarre. May I state no people or animals were harmed in the writing of this page, well, accept for a cow!!!
If you have any urban legends, please e-mail them to me at:
.....(rearrange letters to create e-mail address - this is an anti-spam / anti-robot device) and I will consider them for inclusion. Note I reserve the right to edit stories (remove actual names, etc.) to avoid any liable though in such cases I will aim to retain the spirit of the story.
Urban Legends that
are "Just Tales that People Tell"
Urban Legends that
Actually Have Some Truth In Them
Urban Legends that are "Just Tales that People Tell"
1: The Flooding of the Engineering Department
A research student set up his test rig on a £2 million
industry contract to operate over a Bank Holiday Weekend (i.e. Monday off work).
This was in a brand new lab on the top floor of the Engineering block building
(demolished 2 years later to make way for another redevelopment, but that's
Universities for you). However, he forgot to check the condition of some of the
water pipe work that had been in place just a little too long and apparently
degraded. Over the weekend, the pipe work failed.
Tuesday morning, and the whole laboratory was flooded out. Not only that, the water had made it's way through roof cavities and ducting to just about every room in the floors below in the Engineering block. He managed to knock out over a million quid's worth of kit, including computers and other experimental apparatus. £250,000 of this was beyond repair and had to be chucked straight in the skip. Delays could possibly have cost the University another couple of million with other joint industry ventures and contracts, plus lecture rooms and laboratories put out of use for students.
Just about anywhere else, he'd have been escorted to the door by security and told by Human Resources not to return. This being a University, however, the academics had a bit whinge for two or three days then all of them disappeared back into their little hiding holes to do whatever it was half of them did.
There'd also been some building work (as always in Universities, even when completely unnecessary) and the flood had shown the builders to be complete cowboys who'd skimmed the University for a fair bit of cash. The water had saturated the building rubble they'd stuffed in the roof cavities to avoid disposal costs. The saturated rubble had become so heavy the ceiling below it collapsed and fell on top of an academic sitting at his desk, who according to one rumour at the time had been masturbating to some downloaded porn.
Alleged Location: Tales similar to the below have been associated with a number of Universities though an England University is strongly hinted at in the above story. Northumbria University has been mentioned, but the above is probably a composite of different tales from different places.
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2: The Nuclear Incident
This tale is supposed to date back to the 1970s or 1980s and took ten years to finally resolve. The story begins with a student from a country that was on the United States of America's "Axis of Evil" list was offered a PhD at a former UK British Polytechnic (now part of the "New Universities" club). Allegedly, the student was Libyan at a time then Libyan leader Moamar Gadaffi (cut the Gadaffi duck jokes now!!!) was supposedly keen on developing an atomic bomb.
Any PhD student at a UK University will tell you that direct supervision varies from supervisor, with a few being very hands on to others that are happy to sign off whatever you place in front of them as long as data and papers with their names on are being produced. In the case of the supervisor concerned, he was happy to sign off the purchase requisitions for any equipment the student requested without him even once nipping along to examine the student's experimental set-up or check how the equipment was being used.
The day came when the student submitted his PhD thesis and was subsequently awarded his PhD with remarkably little fuss. All-in-all, his period at the polytechnic had been successful, with a well written PhD and a number of papers to both his and his supervisor's name. Everyone was happy and off home he went.
However, over the next few years it was noticed that there was an unusually high level of illnesses amongst technical staff within the polytechnic's Engineering faculty. Nothing could be proved except there was a "hotspot" of illnesses of staff using a certain office. Then one day, a cleaner asked what was to happen to the equipment in a lab she'd been diligently cleaning since the student left. The student's ex-supervisor agreed to take a look and a look of "What the f**k?!!" came across his face.
The student had been purchasing in equipment sufficient to develop a powerful radiation source (one tale was a mini-nuclear reactor - unlikely I'll add). A "window" on it allowed probes to be placed inside and this had been left open when the student left. This window meant the radiation from it had been focussed in the direction of the technicians' office, passing through a number of wall in the process, possibly explaining the unexplained illnesses of the staff based there. Meanwhile, despite being in the lab every day, the cleaner was completely unaffected as the rest of the vessel (lead-lined???) shielded her from the radiation within.
It was noted that suddenly one day, some unmarked white vans turned up and the area outside the laboratory was cordoned and screened off whilst men in white radiation suits carried out the "radiation source" in a lead-lined box to be shipped off presumably to the nuclear waste disposal facility at Sellafield (then Windscale). However, students being students, a crowd gathered to witness the events with the Atomic Energy Authority men in the white suits doing their best and failing to conceal the reason for their visit.
The laboratory was declared "safe" and the soon-to-be University decided the best use for the laboratory was for it to be converted into a student lecture theatre. As for the PhD student who'd done his experimental work there, no-one is sure what happened to him though I'd imagine he'd do very well for himself in Gadaffi's Libya, at least until Gadaffi was toppled from power in 2011.
Alleged Location: Just about any ex-Polytechnic (later "New University") with a sizeable Engineering or Physics department will have a not too dissimilar tale. This story probably came about as "anecdotal" evidence of the superiority of established Universities over the "New Universities". I was told the tale at Northumbria University by someone who swore the tale was true. Hmmm...
There's probably similar tales from within established Universities too.
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3: The Failing Student and the Prostitution Scandal
One evening, a failing student was sitting in his local pub nursing a pint or three after a major bollocking by his course tutor. He'd been told that he had to buck his ideas up or he'd be thrown off the course.
A policeman who was also a pub regular asked what was the matter and on hearing the student's woes piped up that a senior academic in the student's faculty had got himself in a lot of trouble. The student naturally became curious and bought the off-duty copper more and more beer (very generous grant / loan by the sounds of it) until the copper finally gave up the line that he couldn't say anything because of his police job.
The story the copper told was music to the student's ears. Apparently, the police had raided an illegal brothel and upon arresting the prostitutes and punters, had caught said senior academic with a number of female companions. The academic and prostitutes had been photographed at the scene immediately upon their arrest and carted off to the nearest police station. However, the University was keen on avoiding a scandal and the story goes that a substantial contribution was made to the "Police Pension Fund" to make the matter disappear. The University also agreed to "early retirement" of the academic on the grounds of ill health.
More beer led to photos falling into the hands of the student with his course tutor becoming "aware" the student possessed them. Mysteriously, the "failing" student's grades massively improved and he passed his course with flying colours. Moreover, the student stayed on at the University as a post-grad, sitting on said photos for further "safe keeping".
Alleged Location: I was told this story whilst in informal contact with a member of staff at Manchester University. I have no idea why this person volunteered the tale, however, a good yarn is a good yarn. I'm reliably informed this was a University in northern England, however, it is possibly a corruption of an actual event at a USA University. Entering the search term "university professor caught with prostitute" into a search engine brings up a number of more recent similar stories though most are after the above alleged events. Whilst in these stories there was an academic caught with his pants down there is no proof of a student blackmail element.
There's also a Nigerian story along similar lines, however, the Nigerian story broke in 2016 and again this is well after the above alleged events (note the adverts on this website can drive you nuts!!!).
This tale may be the inspiration of Square 39 of a newer version of "The PhD Game".
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4: The PhD Student who Fabricated Data
One version was told to me by a Computing lecturer and another by a fellow alumni from my old University.
1) A student could not get his experimental rig working, thus calculated what data it should produce and presented the data in his thesis. The rig was found not to work years after the student was awarded his PhD.
2) A student created a novel computing program for which he was awarded a PhD. Years later, someone tried to use the program to examine a different set of outcomes, just to find that the data output as consistently identical to that in the PhD thesis. Further examination showed the program not to be working, with a loop of code being embedded in the program that was set to produce the exact values in the thesis and no other.
In both versions, the University concerned decided not to revoke the PhD to avoid the bad publicity that would result.
Alleged Location: Both versions are oft repeated tales told from time-to-time by staff and students in various locations. Version 1 originated from an ex-Portsmouth student (though he didn't say where it happened) and version 2 was told to me by a member of lecturing staff at Newcastle University well known for tall tales. It was unclear whether he was referring to his pre-Newcastle career.
Just about every University worldwide will have similar stories to the above and an internet search will bring up dozens of stories. One common theme is it always seems to be a male student or male academic who resorts to such tactics when failing. Are women in research better behaved?
"Click here" for an example of where a fraud was exposed and the person who'd become quite prominent in his field eventually had to relinquish his PhD.
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5: The "Poisoner"
This is a variant of "The PhD Student who Fabricated His Data" story, however, with far more dangerous consequences. The tale goes that a veterinary sciences student claimed a major breakthrough, however, whenever his supervisor requested the experimental microscopic slides the student made an excuse not to show them. The supervisor persisted and mysteriously became ill. Even upon becoming ill, he insisted upon seeing the slides.
The student submitted his thesis and was awarded his PhD. However, the supervisor upon recovering from illness still insisted upon see the slides and his insistence eventually showed the student had fabricated the data.
The supervisor's mysterious illness was eventually shown to be a substance slipped into his tea, though the student's guilt could not be proven. The University concerned decided upon the following actions:
1) The student was allowed to keep his PhD, provided he had no further association with the University; and
2) Instead of supporting the supervisor, the University effectively "sacked" him (i.e. decided not to renew his contract).
The supervisor found employment with a different University where he chose to keep a low profile. From the exercise, he gained the very strong impression that the given University was more concerned with its image than the integrity of the work it produced or the wellbeing of its own staff.
Alleged Location: This supposedly happened at a German University though a link to the story is very elusive, probably due to retraction.
This was in the online version of a national newspaper, although I'm unable to locate where at the moment. It appears as there was no solid proof of the story, the newspaper has apparently retracted the story. The story is to be taken with a pinch of salt.
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6: Sex, Hard Drives and Video Tape
Many Universities have 24 hour computing access so that students can work at any time during the day or night. The model of computer involved, a SPARC RISC workstation, suggests if there is an element of truth to this that the events happened in the late 1980s. Night time access even at this time was via key code and magnetic card to prevent anyone wandering in.. However, any student-related "incidents" might lead to out of hours access being suspended until pressure from academics led to privileges and access being restored, allowing some students to resume their "all nighter" sessions. [Skip to main story by clicking here.]
Add to the mix a bored set of security guards, who at worst got called to the odd attempted break-in by local wide boys too incompetent to overcome even University break-in detection systems and drunk students either being sick or peeing in University doorways (or attempting but being too drunk to make out in them). On occasion, during a night shift they'd entertain themselves by banging on pipes behind either the computing laboratory or adjoining toilets when "all nighter" students were deep in concentration in the middle of squeezing a bog blocker out on a sit down job. It was amazing how effective that was when said student was the only one in, frightening the life out of the student who could jump to the conclusion the building was haunted. I wonder if any fleeing students ever forgot to wipe after they'd had the shit scared out of them by the security guards?
The tale goes that security were watching the cameras one quiet night when this computing laboratory was completely empty. Normally, one or two students would work through the night, meaning that no-one was going to try anything really stupid though I'm aware in such facilities there have been one or two incidents of students trying to copy software off the computers. If caught, that would mean instant ejection from their course and bar the odd determined student, such a threat was enough to deter copying. If you're an overseas student, would you want to trigger repayment of fees to your home government if kicked off a course?
It was 2 am on a weekend and with clubs and bars emptying there was a risk of seriously inebriated students coming in to use pre-web search tools to look for dodgy pictures. That was as good as it got back then, with no video files, YouTube or more risqué X-Rated websites to satisfy drunken student needs. You apparently had this software called "Gopher" to search file systems on online repositories around the world. Given at that time, most repositories were academic, it was worrying what academics at a range of different Universities had stored on their hard drives and yes, even then amateur X-Rated video footage could apparently be located.
Main Story: Into the 24 hour computing laboratory stumble a tipsy student couple. The perpetually bored "night shift" security breathed a sigh of relief. Student couples were safe, even drunk ones, no dodgy searches or illegal use of computer systems here. It was 2 am and this would be a quick check of e-mails before they headed home. Oh how wrong they were!!!
The couple ripped straight into each other and in a matter of seconds, his jeans were round his ankles and hands up her skirt. In the throws of passion, a SPARC RISC workstation then worth thousands of pounds was sent flying and there was a big blue flash of electricity as it crashed onto the floor. The incident also fused the power into the computing laboratory though the security cameras on a separate circuit kept running and recorded the incident.
No-one knows what happened to the couple once security arrived as they legged it and were long gone. Whether they were identified or not, or able to finish their studies was unclear. I prefer to think they spent the remainder of their time hiding their faces from the many security cameras on campus or continually ducking into rooms or random lectures for the next few months every time a security guard appeared trying to avoid recognition.
However, the tape recording of the incident supposedly, mysteriously disappeared after the incident investigation was closed. It was said security held a taped copy of the incident for their own entertainment during those long, boring uneventful nights. It was even rumoured that they'd let others have a quick look if they were asked nicely!!!
Alleged Location: Newcastle University's Old Library User Area in the very late 1980s was "hinted at", which was basically the former library converted into a computing laboratory sometime after they opened the Robinson Library. However, the tale has to remain alleged as there is no firm evidence of the events told to me under the substantial influence of alcohol. Treat as just a tale and nothing else!!!
I was told the tale by the lecturer who told me version 2 of "The PhD Student who Fabricated Data" (i.e. the "tall tale" teller).
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7: The Cow in the Lift
A tale directly relating to Newcastle University is that of "The Cow in the Lift".
One of the Newcastle University student halls of residence is known as Castle Leazes, situated to the west of the main Newcastle University campus across Nun's Moor. Nun's Moor, along with the main Town Moor has cattle grazing on it due to the Freemen of the City of Newcastle having the right to graze cows on what are basically large, open areas of grassy land in the middle of the city.
During the 1980s, some students allegedly managed to "persuade" a cow to follow them into the Castle Leazes accommodation block with the intention of placing said cow in another student's bedroom whilst he was out. They somehow managed to get the cow to enter the lift and whilst the lift was transporting the animal to the desired floor, it had a heart attack and died on the spot.
The students took the lift back to the ground floor, but found they could not remove the body of the cow from the lift. They conceded defeat and called the fire brigade who themselves could not move it. Specialist cutting gear finally had to be called in, the cow dissected and the cow was removed piece by piece from the lift.
It is unclear how big a bill the students had to pay to clean up the lift and entrance hall of the all the cow's bodily products once the cow's body had been removed.
Alleged Location: It was an ex-Newcastle student who told me that it happened in Castle Leazes Student Halls of Residence at Newcastle University. However, this was a story the ex-student was told rather having witnessed events himself.
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8: Lesbians in the Bushes
The following tale is taken from Usenet newsgroup "uk.local.sunderland" on an discussion on urban legends, however, it is also a story I remember being told by I think Sunderland students. It's a long time ago since I heard it, so I can't be sure now. All I can add is men will be men where lesbians are concerned.
"One night the police were allegedly called to an incident in Mowbray Park, just on the south side of Sunderland City Centre. Apparently, there was a disturbance involving twenty to thirty men on the road (probably Burdon Road) bypassing the park and the Civic Centre. When they arrived, they found the men jeering and pushing - they moved to break up the disturbance. When they tried, some of the men on the outside of the crowd tried to push the police away and a bit of trouble broke out between the police and the crowd as the crowd tried to chase them off. Reinforcements were called in and finally they managed to disperse the crowd.
"Come on, come on, nothing to see - oh shit, what the f...!" as a young copper turned round to see two young women at it hammer and tongs in the bushes, completely oblivious to the men watching them and the chaos the police caused as they tried to break the crowd up. They finally managed to pull the two women apart.
The story goes that the two women had been out on the drink and were making there way home after failing to pull. They found themselves feeling rather amorous and one thing lead to another and the nearest bush did, to pardon the pun. The crowd of spectators gathered as the heated noises of the two women in love could not be concealed - you can imagine the rest."
From the above the route they'd been taking was probably one popularly taken by students making their way back to digs, when Sunderland University (then Sunderland Polytechnic) still had facilities along Ryhope Road before St Peter's Campus was built. Thus whether the two young ladies in the story were students on their way back to digs was open to speculation. However, the tale first came to light amongst Sunderland students, so you never know. The Arts campus used to be down there and everyone else dismissed these arts types, probably unfairly, as a bit odd anyway. Then again, aren't all students odd until the real world makes them grow up?
Alleged Location: Mowbray Park, Sunderland. This was originally a story amongst University of Sunderland students that "happened a few years before". An estimate it there is any truth to any part of this is late 1970s to mid-1980s.
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9. The Sheep in the Stable
This is strictly speaking not a University urban legend, however, as it's a story that probably originated amongst Durham students then it just about qualifies.
Houghall Agricultural College is now part of East Durham College, a Tertiary Education College based in Peterlee. However, at the time of the alleged events, it was an independent college to teach potential farmers about animal husbandry.
There was an end of year party and a bored male student, a little wasted from alcohol and cigarettes, decided on half an hour's sleep in the stables before rejoining the party. However, it was noticed that he'd taken more than the half hour he said he'd be and his classmates came looking for him.
A little later, the rest of the party goers noticed an ambulance had pulled up outside. They went outside to see said male student being stretchered out to the ambulance with what looked to be a wriggling lump under a blanket on his midriff. One of his other friends couldn't resist and rushed over to pull away the blanket. Beneath was a female sheep, which started bleating away and left no-one in any doubt what was going on.
Basically, the student had got to the stable and in his drunken stupor decided to see what shagging a sheep was like. The sheep had gone into a state of vaginal clamp during the encounter and it was in this state that his first set of friends had found him. To hide his embarrassment, they and the ambulance personnel decided to cover him and the sheep with a blanket whilst they stretchered him away and the sheep relaxed it's state of vaginal clamp.
Unfortunately, when you have a drunk set of students at a party and them put two and two together, the urge to cause maximum embarrassment and reveal the student's apparently temporary ovine preferences by pulling away the blanket was just so massively overwhelming.
Alleged Location: Houghall College, allegedly during the 1970s. However, the story could equally be assigned to any agricultural college, anywhere in the world.
I can't remember exactly where I heard this, though it's a story I became aware of a very long time ago. It may have originated from amongst Durham University students who have Houghall Agricultural College on their doorstep on the road out of Durham on the way to Stockton.
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10. The Lecturer who bet on how long it took to send the students to sleep (zzz...)
Okay, let's be honest. When you sit through a lecture, after a maximum of 20 minutes you're looking at your watch or the lecture room clock waiting for the lecture to finish. This is why it is recommended that in a lecture, the lecturer is advised to deliver his main headline points in the first two minutes and the main substance of the lecture within twenty minutes. After this, when students are falling asleep it should be a case of tying all the information together to form the final body of delivered information.
It says it all when you're told of a Geography lecturer at Newcastle University who allegedly rarely finished a lecture where at least a third of his students fell asleep. Apparently, a student one day went up to said lecturer and apologised for repeatedly falling asleep saying he didn't know what was causing it.
,The lecturer responded "Oh don;t worry about it, we're used to students falling asleep during lectures. In fact, we actually bet amongst ourselves what percentage of students we can sent to sleep. It's something to do with the way I talk, but I normally win the bet!!!"
Alleged Location: If you're still awake, Newcastle, but we all know lectures and lecturers that can send swathes of students to sleep. Mind you, there's also the tale of the Lecturer, the Tank and the Generals!!!
The chances are the lecturer if there's an element of truth in this is by now retired.
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11. The "Fresher" Prudent Student Award
When a student starts their stint as University, amongst the first thing that happens is they receive their grant or loan cheque. This is meant to keep them going to a very basic level over at least the first term or, depending upon where you are in the world, the whole academic year. Of course, many without support from parents or family have to work to supplement this cheque, however, we'll not go there.
Naturally, we have to look after this small amount of money so we can pay basic bills or rent for accommodation. Right?
"Bugger that", many think, " Let's party!!!" This means most of these grant or loan cheques end up in the tills of the many pubs and clubs that announce their presence at fresher's' fairs everywhere. Bank of "Mum and Dad" or more part-time jobs than is healthy for a student is afterwards needed to get them through financially.
So this new student turns up who sits down and calculates how much he can spend on food and essentials after rent has been paid. There are no cultural reasons why he he is rarely seen socialising or involved in student activities around University, despite many of these activities being designed to help people meet and make friends. He seems quite sociable so one of his colleagues asks why he doesn't socialise or go out with other students. He responds he's determined not to leave University with any significant debt, bar the standard loan repayments and minimal bank overdraft.
A good while later, a letter drops through his letter box. It's apparently from his bank to tell him he's to be presented with a "Prudent Student" award for having the least student debt after his first term at University. So on the appointed day, he heads off to the main branch of his bank in town to be presented with the award,
He arrives at the bank to find the bank unusually quiet for what is meant to be an award presentation. What's even stranger is the number of students from his course who just happen to be sorting out financial matters with the bank. He finds it strange that some of the students there don't actually have accounts there, but they could be transferring to the bank.
So he asks at the enquiry desk with the letter and a few enquiries later it becomes clear they don't know anything. The bank manager n duty finally emerges to examine the letter and on reading it says "We've never heard of such an award and I think you've been had."
He turns around to find himself being laughed at by the other students and the penny drops. The letter has been faked. by his colleagues. On the positive side he sees the joke and also starts to laugh. "I've been a bit of a tight wad, haven't I?" The bank security who've appeared to escort him and the other students disappear as tensions ease and the bank manager admits quietly to supplying the other students with the headed paper.
That night, he's seen in the pub with his student colleagues. The biggest shock is when he pays his round. From that point on, he lives a fairly average student existence of study and beer.
He even leaves University with a slightly greater than average student debt, as part way through his student journey he acquires a girlfriend with a high shopping maintenance bill. He, her, his credit card and her 150 or so expensive pairs of shoes (and counting) live happily ever after!!!
Alleged Location: Either the Victoria University of Manchester or the former University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. As the former has absorbed the latter, which it might have occurred at is, erm, "academic".
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Urban Legends that Actually Have Some Truth In Them
12: The "Transvestite" University
Northumbria University allegedly got the nickname the 'Transvestite University' for a while, due to three members of staff at the time undergoing gender reassignment treatment. One of the gents opting for the chop actually looked a pretty convincing and attractive redhead. The curiosity aroused amongst students also led to one class being led by one having 60 students turning up at the beginning of the term when there were only 30 students enrolled on the course.
However, you cannot always escape your "male" past, as later the one of the three that remained years later developed male pattern baldness.
Location: Northumbria University at Newcastle indeed had three transgendered staff during the 1990s though other Universities can no doubt flag similar stories. I think the people concerned are actually very brave in being truthful with themselves and who they are. The above is a composite of the two tales that was talked about amongst people at both Newcastle and Northumbria Universities. I actually saw one of the three whilst a student at Newcastle and the redhead actually appeared on television.
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13: Northumbria's Naming Scandal (???)
When Northumbria University was converting from a "Newcastle Polytechnic" to a University in 1992, they nearly called themselves City University of Newcastle upon Tyne. They decided on Northumbria University only once it was pointed out the initials of the New University would be C.U.N.T., possibly by the UCAS University Admissions people. It was alleged that the name was suggested by a student from the rival Newcastle University.
But that wasn't the end of the story. In 2013, Newcastle University almost registered "Central University of Newcastle upon Tyne" and "Research University of Newcastle upon Tyne" (C.U.N.T and R.U.N.T.), forgetting events at Northumbria University 21 years earlier.
The full story can be read by clicking the following link:
Location: Northumbria and Newcastle Universities.
ITV Tyne Tees News broadcast a "tongue in cheek" article on the incident at the time. However, as the incident was slightly pre-web, records of the story were largely lost and it was assumed after a number of years just to be an urban legend. However, the above website has a couple of links where the story is briefly mentioned in addition to links for Newcastle University's registration faux pas 21 years later.
Northumbria staff and students at the time just about fell over themselves to retell the tale at every opportunity, even though the University allegedly wanted the story to go away. It is noted the University has not asked for the story to be retracted on occasions it has resurfaced.
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14. Oliver Cromwell does Cambridge
The history of Oliver Cromwell is well known in that born in 1599, he later joined and rose through the ranks of the New Model Army during the English Civil War starting in 1642 and became Lord Protector of England after the execution of Charles I in 1649. After dying in 1658, his son Richard Cromwell was overthrown by the army prior to the restoration of the monarchy in 1659 and Charles II ascending the throne.
In 1661, Oliver Cromwell's body was disinterred from Westminster Abbey and he was posthumously executed and beheaded at Tyburn. His head was then placed on a 6.1 meter / 20 foot spike outside Westminster Hall, where it remained until 1685 (note the quoted date varies) when it was dislodged in a storm. His head was then buried at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. The burial of the head came to light in 1962, though there is doubt it is the skull of Oliver Cromwell.
Over the years, it is said that the ghost of Oliver Cromwell has been on a number of occasions haunting the grounds of Sidney Sussex College, though how much of this is down to the spirits the students there have consumed is a matter of debate. This also make the ghost one of busiest in England as it's supposed to have been seen at Basing House in Hampshire, site of a lengthy siege in 1643 and 1644, The King’s Head in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire and Oliver Cromwell's house in Ely, just up the road from Cambridge. The earliest sighting of the ghost is back in 1681, though I'm not sure which location.
Location: Sidney Sussex College Cambridge is the most intriguing as only the head is supposed to be visible on one account. This is a well documented haunting, though in my case I first learned about it on the Internet.
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15. Aurora Lawnmower-alis
It's a beautiful August summer's day. This is the time of year most University campuses are quiet, with only postgraduates and a skeleton academic staff knocking around. Everyone else is on holiday. The only busy people are in Admissions, mopping up the last of the "clearing" students (i.e. those still without a course place) before the beginning of the new academic year at the end of September.
Suddenly, a sensor near an area of grass belonging to the Meteorology group goes berserk. Further sensors are triggered off northward all the way to the Faeroe Islands, half way to Iceland. The geomagnetic activity indicated an Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) event was going to hit Britain and the scientists were going to be busy. However, the data didn't fit and the results were flagged as anonymous. Time had been wasted and as regards money wasted investigating it, well that's something completely unknown.
At the same time, a gardener was chopping away at the grass with his lawnmower on campus. The equipment he'd just passed was something the bods had installed and meant absolutely nothing to him. It was all sciencey-gimmicky stuff he didn't understand anyway. That was all going to change.
As the scientists scratched their heads wondering what happened to trigger the sensor, all they could figure out is a localised electromagnetic field must have been responsible. The area they had placed it had no such strong electromagnetic fields. Finally, someone worked out that the triggering electromagnetic field must be mobile and the only thing that passed the sensor was a man with a lawnmower. Even a petrol-driven lawnmower has a motor and as such, generates quite a strong electromagnetic field in this case sufficient to trigger the sensor.
As a result, the gardener learnt in no uncertain terms what a geomagnetic sensor was and he's left feeling a little embarrassed about the whole incident. That said, my take is why should he be embarrassed when all the scientists had to do was move the sensor to a more sensible location? If a sensor was not gardener or lawnmower-proof, it certainly wouldn't be student-proof!!!
And the incident is still thousands of pounds down the drain!!!
Location: The incident occurred at Lancaster University in August 2016. And the scientists apparently didn't blame the gardener.
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16. Your Data is Safe with Us - Erm...
You'd hope that any data from your time at Uni. would be safe? Right? Perhaps not.
Now all computers have a limited lifetime and normally, there'd be nothing wrong with parts being reused. Normally, the computers are completely destroyed so students and others will buy brand new computers rather than cheaper second hand computers that would not dent the student budget so much. Don't start me on this, I think it's wrong given how tight student budgets can be and certainly not very green.
Separately, the hard drives are removed and "deep cleaned" with a special utility then at the very least a hole is drilled in the magnetic media. Better, a hammer is taken to the drive to put it beyond use. Even if you format a hard drive the data can still be recovered if you have the right tools hence the requirement to completely, physically, put them out of action.
Think again. Remember the people we are discussing represent the brightest and most intelligent within our society or at least work alongside them.
Instead, flog the hard drives on to someone else as second hand for a quick profit without checking if the data on them has been removed and it's no longer your problem!!! After that, have a mass panic as you try to recover the hard drives to destroy and put the data beyond reach.
Of course, there's much simpler ways of disposing of computers full of data even when you didn't know you wanted to dispose of them. That's right, leave them on the passenger seat of your car and the thief that takes the computer also assists the air conditioning by taking a brick to the passenger side window.
Now if the driver of the car would be so considerate to leave the car keys in the ignition for the thief to take?
Or better still, how about that bloke visiting his dodgy websites in the "The Flooding of the Engineering Department" story actually owning one of the computers or laptop? His browser history (or for that matter a good many of the other devices involved) may make an interesting read!!!
However, the thief wasn't the brightest kid on the block and unaware of even the concept of an ON-OFF switch let alone the value of the data, flogged it to the local pawn shop for next to nothing. The pawn shop owner in turn flogged to the very academic who had lost the laptop in the first place and was keen to cover up his misdemeanour. It only dawned on the academic later when he noticed the odd scratch on it matched up with the one he'd lost. However, as the pawn shop owner had actually scrubbed the laptop hard drive and reset it to factory default, there was no trace of the data and he still had to report his misdemeanour!!!
Location: There are no doubt multiple instances where the above tales might have happened and there are instances where similar has happened. In 2010, Brighton and Sussex University Hospital Trusts' sub-contractors used further subcontractors to dispose of computer hardware. The sub-contractors' sub-contractor flogged the non-deep cleaned hard drives on e-bay and the ease of which the data was accessed suggests to me (I can't be sure of this) the hard drives hadn't even had a basic format . And a member of staff at Staffordshire University in 2014 was silly enough to leave a laptop lying in a car where it got stolen.
Both instances were potentially serious data breaches, however, in the first instance the sensitive data was reported by the purchaser and the hard drives were rounded up. In the second instance, the thief was apparently only interested in the laptop rather than the data so in neither case was any data released. There's no evidence of the laptop being flogged back to the academic by a pawn shop and that bit is definitely myth, or at least you hope it is!!!
I've actually witnessed on-campus computer disposal and theoretically, all of the computers being disposed of are accumulated together before being taken to the skip. It's not clear if the hard drives are properly destroyed, however, in one case building contractors had put two and two together and worked out the computers could be made functional with little to no effort. I didn't see if some of the computers or related hardware disappeared. There was another instance of a computer motherboard being flogged and I'm unsure to this day whether the motherboard had come from a University computer.
My overhearing of the building subcontractors' conversations predates either of the above stories by several years as does the selling of the computer motherboard and the tales of people leaving laptops and sensitive information in cars. So the instances I quote won't be the first or last time each has happened.
P.S.. I hope when people read this particular story, it makes them a little more careful with their data and hardware. If a hard drive packs in on me, I do destroy it to make sure it can't be ever accessed. Consider this a cautionary tale.
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17. The Lecturer, the Tank and the Generals
Okay, I've touched on lecturers and lectures that send you to sleep. However, you occasionally come across a lecturer who is entertaining and funny. One computing lecturer I knew of would keep his students awake by inserting relevant and funny anecdotes into his lectures and seminars. I mean when a lecturer stands at the front of the class and says the module he is teaching will contribute nothing to your career then you begin to earn some respect for his honesty. This is the tall tale teller I mentioned earlier.
One anecdote he threw in was to remind people that flaws in computer programming can have implications for people's safety. And when he admits to him nearly wiping out the British Army top brass with one of his programming errors, you sit up and take notice.
The tale goes that prior to taking up lecturing he contributed to the control software for the original Challenger tank software back in the 1980s. The tank had passed trials and it was to be presented demonstrated to the British Army top brass.
A marquee was set up on Salisbury Plain and the tent was set out with a stand for seating and tabling, champagne and silver service set out behind. The generals turned up in their best uniforms and took their seats. Meanwhile, the squaddies (rank and file) stood there looking bored,
Tank went through it's routine and the generals applauded the new tank. The tank finished by pulling up in front of the marquee and was meant to bow it's gun to finish. However, the aforementioned software flaw meant instead the tank accelerated forward through the marquee, demolishing the stands and flattening the champagne and five course meals that had been set out for the generals for after the display.
No-ne was hurt, however, the previously bored squaddies started rolling around on the ground laughing as all the generals ran and scattered everywhere to avoid the oncoming tank.
One thing the British Army does well is to teach soldiers to use their own initiative. It didn't take long for them to work out it was a software glitch. A few queries from some very astute squaddies finally traced our now very popular computing lecturer.
He was promptly escorted into Salisbury and marched into the nearest pub where basically he didn't have to pay for another drink. And the cheap nights out didn't stop there. For sometime after, walking into a pub where there happened to be army rank and file who were present that day meant he didn't have to pay for any of his beers.
Location: He told the tale wherever he went. Has he exaggerated the tale???
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18. Odd Courses
I'll let this section speak for itself. These were offered at some point (not necessarily currently) as listed.
Firstly, courses in the UK (with a few international equivalents):
a. Durham University's "Education Studies" degree had a Harry Potter Module - Ohio State University in the US also offered this;
b. Plumpton College in Kent had a "Viticulture and Oenology" (Wine Studies) degree;
c. Herriot-Watt University in Edinburgh had a "Brewing and Distilling" degree - beer, now we're talking;
d. Cornwall College had a "Surf Science and Technology" course;
e. Neighbouring South Devon Collge were a little posher with their "Yacht Operations" course;
f. The University of Abertay Dundee had an "Ethical Hacking" degree;
g. Bath Spa University had a "Contemporary Circus and Physical Performance" foundation degree;
h. Liverpool Hop University had an MA in "The Beatles, Popular Music and Society";
i. Birmingham University had a degree in "Horology" (Time Keeping) - I wonder if the students ever got to lectures on time?;
j. Birmingham was also the University that offered "Golf Management" I believe;
k. Myersclough College had a full degree in "Floral Design";
l. "Theatre Practice & Puppetry" was offered at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London;
m. The University of Kent offered an MA in "Stand Up Comedy";
n. St Mary’s University in Twickenham offered an MA in "Gothic: Culture, Subculture, Counterculture" - actually teaching Goths haw to be even darker!!!;
o. University College offered a course in Scandinavian Studies, but decided to call it "Viking Studies" - make up your own jokes about students being taught how to behave like Vikings;
p. Various places have offered "Star Wars" modules as part of their degrees over the years, including the University of Glamorgan in Wales (B.Sc. in "Science and Science Fiction"), Queen's University Belfast (a "Jedi Knights" module to help with student communication studies) and Brown University in the US ("Star Wars: Physics in Film" - this is definitely no longer offered);
And now for international courses:
a. The University of California offered a non-credit course in "Pokemon" at the request of students at their Berkeley campus and also "The Science of Superheroes" at their Irvine campus;
b. The University of Victoria offered a "Video Gaming" degree;
c. Minneapolis College of Art and Design, US offered a "Comic Art" course - you learn how to design comics;
d. A module called "The Vampire in Literature and Cinema" was served up by University of Wisconsin-Madison;
e. Columbia College Chicago and University of Baltimore did a course module in "Zombies in Popular Media";
f. "Cyberporn and Society" was a module taught by the University of New York at Buffalo;
g. If you want to speak Klingon, the the University of Texas at Austin offered "Invented Languages: Klingon and Beyond";
h. Perhaps all of these course titles could be covered by "The Joy of Garbage" at Santa Clara University!!!
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