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 missal 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.