Greetings from the dean
Dean Johnny Laursen writes to students and staff
In the garden outside my window the daffodils and hyacinths are in flower, while the winter aconites and snowdrops are past their prime. It’s true that it’s actually snowing as I write, but the snow will melt by the time I go downstairs to prepare for meetings in the week ahead. So spring is now upon us. As Shakespeare said: “April, dressed in all its trim, hath put a spirit of youth in everything”. After a long, cold winter, it’s hard to believe that spring is really on the way. And it’s hard to imagine that Denmark and our universities will be reopening soon. But it’s true – even though some parts of the reopening process may extend into the summer or even beyond.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could simply return to the university on Monday morning without needing disinfectant and face masks, and without having to keep two metres apart. Unfortunately, this is wishful thinking. We are now entering a period of uncertainty with many different precautions and many practical problems for staff and students alike. I’d like to thank everyone who has helped us prepare to reopen the university, enabling us to take the first steps leading to face-to-face teaching and a return to campus in increasing numbers. Events have moved rapidly since we were told (rather unexpectedly, just before Easter) about the new opportunities and expectations applying to Danish universities. We still have to stay two metres apart and plan with core groups of students, testing, Corona passports etc. This will continue to make daily life difficult. But a lot of people have helped to find good solutions to these problems. I’d also like to thank our union representatives and occupational health and safety organisation for our regular discussions of how to ensure the best possible conditions for reopening. The Academic Council and the Arts Council have also been important and valuable partners in the process.
As you know, 4 May is the deadline for submitting your input to the discussions of our organisational structure that the faculty management team has launched at my request. There’s never really a good time for discussions of this kind, and this is a particularly difficult time. I had planned to raise the issue in the spring of 2020, but we were distracted by other matters. However, by Christmas it was felt that the issue should not be postponed any longer. In May I look forward to reading all the input from the discussions taking place across the faculty at the moment. There are two possible scenarios: an ad hoc, pragmatic scenario involving minor adjustments; and a scenario involving the creation of a fourth school. If we choose the second of these two options, no final decision will be taken until a thorough review has been conducted, lasting well into 2022. Among other things, this process will require that a fourth school is given a proper financial foundation. If we choose the first option, we can start taking the first steps in the autumn semester of 2021. As I have underlined already, the faculty management team is keeping an open mind about this, so the decision in June is by no means predetermined.
Many of you will have been following the current debate about the freedom of research, arising in the wake of a number of newspaper articles and the section 20 question which the minister was asked by two Danish MPs (Morten Messerschmidt and Henrik Dahl) relating to gender and migration research. The rector and I responded in an article in Altinget, where we presented Aarhus University’s view of the matter. I have also subsequently presented my views in the social media and elsewhere. The minister (like Universities Denmark) has expressed her support for the freedom of research and the arm’s length principle. These are the vital issues at stake here. The current media focus will not stand the test of time. But it can still be unpleasant to watch your research and points of view being twisted out of shape and misinterpreted by other people. As I have said many times before, I am always proud of the excellent research produced at our faculty, and nobody should doubt that gender and migration research continue to hold an important position in our overall research portfolio. And in this connection, let me just say that any member of staff who experiences harassment or even potential threats should always approach their line manager to discuss the situation.
We are now approaching a period of change once again, as things start to go better and the days start to grow longer. I look forward to returning gradually to the way things were before the pandemic. And I hope that by the time I write my next newsletter in June, we know more about what the rest of the year will look like. And finally, I hope that like me, you are able to enjoy the spring.
Dean Johnny Laursen