The dean comments on covid-19, planning our teaching, and #MeToo.

Dear staff

I don’t imagine many of you have been lying awake at night recently, wondering when I would issue my next newsletter. But even so, there might be couple of people out there who have noticed an uncharacteristic silence on my part. The reason why I’ve been so quiet is that I feel you’ve had plenty of other urgent issues to cope with. I have also been worried that anything I might say could quickly become outdated in the strange reality of 2020. But the situation has changed recently (for better or worse), and I now believe that the current restrictions and framework for our activities will be more stable over the next few months.

I don’t want to spend time here discussing the effects of the lockdown, but I would just like to mention that we have now granted extensions to a number of our PhD students. And any permanent members of academic staff who have suffered significant delays in their research or other activities owing to the lockdown are welcome to discuss this issue in their next staff development dialogue. It’s a good idea to keep up to date with events via your union representatives and local liaison committees.

It’s certainly been something of a rollercoaster ride: lockdown in the spring, then a sense of optimism and relief in the summer, followed by disappointment and local restrictions first in Aarhus and then in Copenhagen. This has had a short-term impact on our teaching activities in particular, and the start of the new semester definitely did NOT turn out as we had planned and hoped. The planning of our degree programmes has also been affected, with the faculty management team doing its best to arrange as much face-to-face teaching as possible. However, the situation has changed, and our high hopes have been dashed. We now have to keep one metre apart and wear face masks, which has increased the proportion of our teaching taking place online. Unfortunately, this has made it difficult to allocate rooms, which has been frustrating for a lot of people. We’re also aware of other difficulties facing our programme planners which have nothing to do with the Covid-19 situation. The faculty management team is working to solve these problems in close collaboration with relevant parties from across the faculty.

The autumn of 2020 has not exactly been a tranquil season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. But even though Covid-19 has caused plenty of difficulties, I am pleased to note that AU is not currently in lockdown as we were in the spring. It is after all possible to conduct a lot of our teaching face to face, and there are definite signs of life in our buildings and offices – although it’s not life as we used to know it. For instance, I find it very difficult to refrain from shaking people’s hands when I meet them. On the other hand, washing our hands at regular intervals won’t kill us. We’re also getting used to face masks, disinfectant and social distancing – although we’re all looking forward to the day when they are no longer necessary. I know that people have found sensible ways to respect the health-related restrictions applying during teaching and in the daily life of the faculty in general. We’re used to it now, and I hope the measures we have put in place will keep us safe until we have travelled the long road leading to the return of normal life. I’d like to thank you all for demonstrating the necessary consideration for each other and society as a whole. I hope that we are able to plan our activities for the autumn semester of 2021 with a greater sense of optimism and greater certainty about the future that lies ahead. I also hope that most of the international activities and research collaborations that are such an important part of the life of our university can continue at some point.

While we have been trying to adjust to the new situation, the #MeToo movement has also left its mark on our universities. The day before I wrote these lines, I joined Dorthe Staunæs (from the faculty’s diversity committee), Anne Larson (deputy chair of the faculty’s occupational health and safety committee) and Ida Juhl (joint union representative and deputy chair of the faculty’s liaison committee) in a meeting with Ning de Coninck-Smith and Mie Plotnikof, who are spokespersons for the signatories of an article published in Politiken in October. I thanked them and the other signatories for their initiative, and asked them and the other people attending our digital meeting to encourage any AU staff who have had MeToo experiences to come forward. I also invited all proposals for the resolution of any problems, and we talked about making these three committees the point of departure for discussions and future initiatives in the months ahead. The faculty’s PhD committee under Anne Marie Pahuus, who is the head of our graduate school as well as being vice-dean, has set up a small working group to discuss this issue in relation to our PhD students. We need to ensure that all our members of staff and students can work and study at the faculty with full confidence that they will be treated with respect and decency.

I hope you enjoy what’s left of the autumn, and I look forward to issuing my Christmas newsletter in the not-too-distant future.

Johnny Laursen