Greetings from the dean
Dean Johnny Laursen writes to students and staff about the current challenges.
The current situation
Owing to the ongoing challenge of COVID-19 and lockdown in Denmark, the spring semester has turned into yet another test of endurance for our staff and students alike. We conducted online exams in January, and are now one month into yet another semester of online teaching. The government will be making new announcements about the situation on 15 March and 5 April. We are all experiencing problems and challenges at present – not only in our working lives, but also in our daily lives as a whole. The senior management team discusses the situation twice a week, and AU is in regular contact with the ministry to explore options for trying to resolve some of the biggest problems.
I am impressed by your ability and willingness to keep us at an even keel. Some of you may think that the faculty management team underestimates how difficult the situation has become. I quite understand this, but let me just assure you that it’s not the case. We know that the continuation of safe and stable operations under such difficult circumstances is quite an achievement. Despite everything that COVID-19 has thrown at us, we are still managing to conduct our teaching and exams. And the faculty has observed all its agreements and maintained its external collaborations. Even though 2020 was a difficult year, we managed to ensure that the faculty’s financial situation is secure. I know that this has come at a cost in terms of difficult working conditions and exceptional demands. So you won’t hear the faculty management team saying that things are going well. A lot of people have warned us about this, and of course we respect this sentiment. But I would at least like to thank you for all your hard work.
Dialogue with FAMU/FSU and the Academic Council
Naturally, for some time we have been discussing the challenges of restrictions and lockdown with our advisory bodies, union representatives and liaison committees – both at faculty level, and throughout our organisation. On 4 March we held a joint meeting involving the Faculty Health and Safety Committee (FAMU), the Faculty Liaison Committee (FSU), the Academic Council and the faculty management team. In this extraordinary situation, I felt there was a need to draw these central committees closer together and establish a closer dialogue with the management. Not only to find out how things are going, but also to look ahead towards the reopening of our university, an event which will also require a good deal of teamwork. We know that people feel that the lockdown is becoming unbearable. There was a need to discuss this, and we also wanted to know what people feel about priorities and areas of special concern when we reopen again.
While all this has been going on, and ever since Christmas, the faculty management team has been discussing our organisational issues. This was at my request, and at the joint meeting we gave an update on our discussions so far. We have also issued a brief memo inviting our departments and other bodies across the faculty to discuss the themes considered by the faculty management team. Many of you will remember that we had a wide-ranging discussion of the faculty’s organisation in 2014, and that we decided to retain the structure in place at that time (three big schools and a number of departments). This structure has served us well throughout several major challenges. One of these involved coping with the cap on enrolments. Our structure has enabled us to prepare in good time for all the challenges that have faced us, including financial challenges. But our activities have changed a great deal during the same period. For instance, we have taken over the business language programmes that used to belong under BSS. What’s more, in a few years’ time the School of Communication and Culture will be combining its activities at Kasernen and Katrinebjerg in a new setting at Katrinebjerg. This project will demand a good deal of attention in the years ahead. And finally, it may be a good idea to boost the profile of our language degree programmes and activities, which will be collaborating a great deal with government agencies and institutions and the rest of the education system in future.
Against this background, the faculty management team has decided to launch an internal discussion of options for improving the way we are organised, the aim being to encourage more accessible on-campus management and better collaboration and dialogue throughout the faculty. This can be achieved in many ways, and the faculty management team has not yet decided how to proceed. But we want to know what people across the entire faculty think about the idea. For instance, we have discussed the option of forming a new board of studies to ease the burden on the large board of studies at the School of Communication and Culture, which covers three different campus locations and 53 degree programmes – clearly not the best way to ensure that our staff and students can play an active role in educational development. We have also discussed the option of setting up a collaborative forum for all our language-related activities. And just to prevent any unfounded rumours, let me just add that our initial discussions have also included the option of forming a fourth school. We know that this is a very big issue, so we have decided that it should be included in the discussions taking place across the faculty during the next few months. I must underline that if this option becomes a real possibility, we will need to get the approval of the AU board before conducting a detailed consultation process. And this will not be possible until the end of 2021 or the beginning of 2022. The creation of a fourth school will not affect the fundamental structure of the faculty in large schools.
None of the issues outlined here will be decided during this difficult spring semester. When we know more about what people think, the faculty management team will review the situation in June and then decide what the next step should be. We hope you will understand why we feel that this is the right time to open this kind of exploratory debate. The faculty management team feels that it is difficult to postpone the issue much longer. Past experience has taught us the value of taking timely action while planning for the long term. This will give us the best chance of ensuring the stable development of our faculty.
Dean Johnny Laursen