Arts

Newsletter from the Dean

Dear staff,
Dear students,

 

Our campus is full of new and old students once again – and it’s a real pleasure to walk through the park and meet colleagues in the office on the Ring Road just as we used to do. The restrictions associated with Covid-19 already seem to belong to the distant past. As we approach the half-way mark in what has turned out to be a busy autumn semester, I’d like to take this opportunity of thanking everyone, staff and students alike, for your willingness and ability to stay the course and stick together to solve the problems arising in connection with the pandemic. It’s been a period which none of us is ever likely to forget. The government’s decision to reopen Denmark indicates a growing sense of confidence, and we have started to lift our heads and look around us without needing to focus on the kind of ad-hoc problems caused by the lockdowns.

So it’s also time to take stock of our situation now that the worst of the crisis is over. This will probably take a while, as our departments start discussing the situation, looking back on the damages from the storm, and finding out what we’ve learned from the whole experience. The faculty management team will not be issuing any directions about working from home, online teaching, or the pros and cons of holding meetings online instead of meeting face to face. But we will be following the discussions about these issues across the faculty, and will gradually work out what can be done to support any new initiatives in this area.

One of the questions lots of people are asking relates to the potential for travelling and attending conferences once again. Can I start by encouraging you all to be cautious when planning upcoming trips or activities involving visits to other countries? Some parts of the world are still categorised as risk zones, or zones in which the health situation could deteriorate suddenly and unexpectedly. I know that many of you also have a strong sense of responsibility when it comes to travelling in a climate-friendly and environmentally friendly manner. I have the greatest respect for your concerns. However, I don’t think we should necessarily take this responsibility on our shoulders only as individuals. Useful exchanges with colleagues at home and abroad are a beneficial part of academic life, and the development of good ways to maintain a flourishing level of peer contact is a vital task throughout the faculty. The faculty management team will support all efforts to explore the options in this area. I expect we’ll be able to conduct a lot of short meetings or meetings of a relatively bureaucratic nature online, but that face-to-face meetings may well be preferable for activities which are given high priority by our academic staff. So we need to focus on travelling in a more environmentally friendly manner. Like anything else, this will be done in close collaboration with our colleagues and university contacts abroad.

Before the summer holiday, the faculty management team reached a decision following the discussion of our organisation that was launched in the spring. Although we decided not to change our school structure, we still need to discuss what can be done to improve the level of cohesion across the faculty. Not long ago I visited the management at the School of Communication and Culture, who are ready to consider these issues at their own school. A number of pragmatic initiatives have been announced with a view to increasing the level of cohesion in our language subjects and degree programmes, and these will probably be implemented over the course of the next couple of months. The autumn semester is going to be very busy, with one of the tasks involving the ongoing study of the way we plan our degree programmes. We will therefore proceed gradually and patiently.

The early summer was characterised by a great debate about the freedom of research. I’d like to thank everyone who offered support to their colleagues, everyone who had to cope with this difficult situation, and everyone who helped to maintain an objective and decent standard of debate. I encourage anyone who is interested in this issue to watch the open consultation in the research committee of the Danish Folketing on 1 September. This consultation can be viewed on the Folketing website. Jesper Petersen, the new Minister for Higher Education and Science, made a number of clear statements of principle about the freedom of research and respect for the freedom of speech of researchers, as well as denouncing the practice of naming and shaming researchers in the Danish Parliament. His comments seem very right-minded to me. And they surely mark the beginning of a new and better chapter in this debate.

Many of you may be wondering what kind of future the politicians are planning for us. It’s too soon to say anything definite about this. You all know what the government proposed before the summer holiday: a reduction of up to 10% in the number of student places in the major Danish cities. Since the summer holiday, we have learned more about the government’s expectations regarding the process involved in this connection. The universities are expected to present their plans before Christmas. The civil servants and party spokespersons will then discuss the proposals they receive. There’s no hiding the fact that this is going to be a major challenge for us, and the faculty management team has already started discussing a variety of possible scenarios. It’s not yet possible to predict which path each college and university will choose, or what the result might be. The internal discussions and the external negotiations will run through a number of different phases before we know the outcome some time around April 2022. Obviously, the worst-case scenario is that the faculty will have to cope with the consequences of a significant financial setback over a period lasting until the changes have been fully implemented in 2030.

 

Even though it’s hard to live with such a black cloud hanging over our heads, let’s not forget that the faculty has overcome far greater challenges than this in the past. For instance, teamwork and solidarity have helped us to consolidate our financial situation following a variety of cutbacks and the cap on enrolments that was introduced some years ago. But whatever happens, the good news is that we’re back on campus again – and that’s worth celebrating!

Johnny Laursen