Meet your colleague: Jørgen Albæk Jensen

On the top floor in the yellow buildings at the Department of Law, you find Professor Jørgen Albæk Jensen’s office. Here, he has studied and taught constitutional and administrative law since 1986. He is also a much used expert in the media - most recently in connection with political party funding in the Liberal Party. In this interview, we talk about being a researcher and having the duty - and the desire - to get involved.

2019.05.08 | Sinne B. Jakobsen

Photo: Aarhus BSS Communication

Jørgen, please tell us a bit about yourself and your work here at the Department of Law?

I’ve been here since 1986 and I primarily conduct research into constitutional and administrative law. I also hold a MSc in Political Science and decided rather late to immerse myself in law. Since then, I’ve gone down the beaten track from assistant professor to professor.

In addition to my research and teaching, I’ve held a number of administrative positions, including director of studies and head of department. For me, administrative work isn’t a duty, but a good opportunity to take part in the decision-making. I definitely have a good ability not to mind my own business. If I see something that puzzles me, I can’t help but poke my nose into it.

Why did you decide to change course from political science to law?

Law appeals to me because it contains fairly precise answers and allows us to talk about what’s right and wrong. In political science, there are always more sides to the same story. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that the two academic fields are closely related and that both are essential for our society and democracy.

To put it bluntly, you could say that law is about how society should work and political science is about how society works in practice. That field of tension is really interesting. For that reason, it’s only natural to establish cross-disciplinary projects within the two fields of study.

Right now, I’m working on a project with researchers from the Department of Political Science in which we explore the role of civil servants in Danish politics in connection with issuing ministerial orders. The project was put out to tender by the Danish parliament. In short, it concerns whether ministers and public servants have gained too much power. That’s a really interesting question seen both from a legal and societal perspective.

You are often used as an expert in the media, most recently in connection with the case of political party funding in the Liberal Party. What do you think about the researcher’s role as a participant in the public debate?

Well, the University Act stipulates that we as researchers have a duty to participate in the public debate. I very much agree with that. For that reason, I gladly make my knowledge available, but only within the areas where I have something to say. I don’t express an opinion about things outside my field of study. As a researcher, you really need to be careful with that. Basically, it doesn’t matter what we think and believe about all sorts of things.

You have also been part of political expert committees?

Yes, I was a member of the former government’s committee for political party funding, where we recommended changes for the law on political party funding. That kind of committee work is very meaningful, and it’s a sign of a healthy political process to involve experts in this way. The fact that not all recommendations are followed is a different story. However, in the case of political party funding we’ve raised awareness about an important topic and have paved the way for changes. I’m happy to have contributed to that.

Right now, we’re seeing how it’s possible to circumvent the funding rules by obeying merely the letter of the law, the written word that is, but not the spirit – or the intention - of the law. That's a problem. Our society rests on the notion that we all obey the intention of our laws and rules. After all, they are there for a reason.

Some might say that experts and research-based knowledge are more important for our society than ever. Do you agree with that?

Yes, I probably do. There are a couple of examples of how politicians and opinion-makers are questioning facts - such as whether the Constitution also applies to foreigners in Denmark. And it definitely does. That’s a fact. And I’m disappointed that as a politician, you would even think of questioning that.

In our society, everything is up for discussion nowadays. This is a dangerous path to follow because we are becoming immune to falsehoods. We’re seeing it happen in the US right now, and the trend is also growing in Denmark. Naturally, it’s ok to have different opinions, but we ruin the political discussion when we stray away from facts. As a university and as researchers, we therefore have an important function - to safeguard factual knowledge and make it available to citizens and society.

You can look back on a long life as a researcher. What have been the greatest experiences for you?

One of the things I like the most is actually teaching. It’s great to meet young people and help them on their way. I’ve also really enjoyed my four research stays in the US. They’ve given me a lot academically as well as personally. Finally, it’s been great to be a part of the Department of Law. It’s a nice place to be with good and skilled people and a great collaboration between the academic and technical and administrative staff.

Who is Jørgen when he’s not at work?

I read quite a bit, play Bridge and am generally good at relaxing when I’m not at work. For the last few years, our three grandchildren have also taken up a lot of my spare time. I also like to travel - for example to the United States. It’s an amazing country - fascinating and terrible all at once. As people, Americans are incredibly hospitable, and we could perhaps learn something from them here in Denmark. In return, they could learn a lot about the way we’ve structured our society.

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