Archive for Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Heard on the Hill: KUMC prof gets honorary degree, Viking sword from Finnish university; Wash. Post blog is good higher ed read; winter break really is longer this year

January 11, 2012


Your daily dose of news, notes and links from around Kansas University.

• If you’re into engraved ceremonial Viking swords, maybe the best thing for you to do is try to get an honorary doctorate from the University of Turku in Finland.

I was perusing this list of awards and recognitions given to KU Medical Center faculty in 2011, and came across that strange item given to Carol Smith, a nursing professor at KUMC who received an honorary degree in medicine from the university after serving as a visiting faculty member there over the last decade.

Naturally curious, I zipped over to the University of Turku’s website (or at least the English version), and confirmed that, indeed, honorary doctorates get swords.

“The sword stands for truth,” the website said. “It is a weapon of the mind to sharply defend what is true, right and good in the doctor's research.”

Remind me not to challenge any of Smith’s research any time soon.

Higher education in Finland must be pretty interesting. I remember Val Stella, a KU distinguished professor of pharmaceutical chemistry also has an honorary doctorate from a university in Finland. I remembered that because of a strange sort of hat that looked almost like a top hat that he was wearing at the inauguration of new KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little almost two years ago now.

Here’s a photo that at least resembled it. Stella told me later he was able to wear it after getting the honorary degree, and took it out for special occasions. And it looks like Smith got one of these hats, too.

KU will begin a new tradition and award honorary doctorates to four people in May. No word on whether they get swords.

• If you’re looking for some good reading on the topic of higher education — and Heard on the Hill isn’t quite filling you to capacity — I’d recommend checking out Washington Post higher education reporter Jenna Johnson’s Campus Overload blog.

Here’s a good recent post about college rankings, a frequent topic in this space and elsewhere.

I enjoyed that she found a some silly lists, including a list of colleges most like Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.

KU, sadly, did not make that list. You’ll have to go the University of Chicago, apparently, to replicate the Hogwarts experience.

• If you’re thinking, “Man, this winter break seems a little longer than usual,” you’re a pretty smart sort of person.

Because this winter break is, in fact, a little longer than usual — a full five weeks.

It’s all part of a new academic calendar installed this year. The Kansas Board of Regents approved a calendar that dropped the number of instructional days in the calendar from 150 to 146.

Students now will return at the same time each winter on the Tuesday after Martin Luther King Day.

A university governance committee that looked at the calendar issue also determined that a slightly longer winter break would be good for study abroad programs and international students, too.

So enjoy the extra time, students, but I’m looking forward to things getting back to normal (or as normal as things ever get around here) next week.

• If you’re wondering, “Gee, is Andy going to start every single item with the phrase, ‘If you’re’?” you can put that question to rest, at least. And if you’re looking to submit a tip for Heard on the Hill, all you have to do is fire off an email to me at


valgrlku 6 years, 5 months ago

I'm not sure how you're coming up with 5 weeks for KU break. The last day of finals was Dec. 16 (Friday), and the first day of classes is Jan. 17 (Tuesday), making the break seem MUCH shorter than normal - it sure feels that way, anyway!!!

tir 6 years, 5 months ago

Um, I wouldn't exactly call the ceremonial blade a Viking sword, which is actually a big hefty broadsword like the ones here:

The Turku honorary model depicted in the drawing on the website looks like a gentleman's small sword, or court sword like these:

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