A regrettable affair casts a shadow over AU’s reopening
It’s been an eventful May. It’s been a month of good news – the university has reopened – mixed with bad: the agency’s forceful critique of AU’s handling of a series of freedom of information requests has concerned and frustrated staff.
This month, we reopened the doors of the university’s buildings, and more administrative and technical staff are now able to return to their offices. Although there are still restrictions on on-site work, it’s encouraging that things are moving in the right direction.
Over the next few months, as vaccinations are rolled out and we enjoy our summer holidays, a phased reopening culminating on 1 August will see us slowly returning to working lives that don’t exclusively play out at home. Right now, Covid still puts limits on our activities and movements, but in August, we will hopefully be able to go about our lives with fewer restrictions. And I’m certainly looking forward to that.
AU’s handling of freedom of information requests
But less positive developments have also left their mark on the month of May. The Danish Agency for Higher Education and Science has issued a forceful critique of our handling of freedom of information requests in connection with the so-called ‘beef report case’ in 2019.
Release of documents was delayed, and incomplete reports were submitted to the agency. As Rector Brian Bech Nielsen said earlier this month, we take this criticism extremely seriously and have drawn the necessary consequences. AU’s board support the measures that have been taken and has stressed their continued confidence in Brian Bech Nielsen as the university’s rector.
I’m aware that this affair has caused anxiety and insecurity among many administrative and technical employees. There has been and continues to be a lot of focus on this affair, and I’ve heard from union reps and the liaison committees as well as from the rest of the organisation that it’s caused consternation, concern and frustration internally, among both academic and administrative/technical staff.
No zero-error culture in AU’s administration
I fully understand the anxiety and uncertainty staff are feeling about this affair. One of the questions I hear many people ask is whether this will lead to the introduction of a ‘zero-error’ culture in AU’s administration.
The answer is short and simple: No! And I’m not alone in my point of view. It’s shared by the rector and the rest of the senior management team. And let me take this opportunity to repeat what I’ve said on other occasions over the past weeks: We have a highly competent, professional administration with extremely dedicated staff and leaders who do excellent work for Aarhus University every day. We’re not known for haphazard administrative processes, and we mustn’t see all our work in the light of an exceptional case such as this one.
But that said, we have to learn from it. Many of you have probably read the Omnibus interview with Connie Hedegaard, the chair of AU’s board, where she stresses that we have to acknowledge when mistakes are made and not try to cover them up. It’s difficult to disagree with that point. In this connection, she also states that AU has to work to change its culture in relation to handling mistakes and critical cases - this message Connie Hedegaard comments on in an additional announcement after the board seminar on 28th May. (in Danish only)
The senior management team agree that we at Aarhus University must have a culture that encourages us to acknowledge mistakes and be open about them. Mistakes shouldn’t be kept under wraps – mistakes have to be dealt with, and we have to learn from them. And although I don’t believe that this affair reflects normal practice at Aarhus University, it is of such a grave nature that we are forced to reflect on our practice.
In the near future, I will be listening to the concerns and frustrations administrative and technical staff across the university might be feeling. You are welcome to contact me directly. I would also encourage you to contact your manager with your concerns; I will be discussing these issues in leadership fora to determine how and where the administration, in collaboration with the academic environments, best can contribute to making things right and ensuring that a case like this doesn’t happen again.
And finally, let me make one thing clear: We have confidence in our administrative and technical staff. It was there before, and it’s still there now.