Academic Board and the University Autonomy

The Academic Board elections at the University of Tampere commenced on Monday this week, and we’ve already past the first day of voting. So far, the process has had its fair share of drama. The elections are held at the historical stage of the Tampere3 process, in a situation where the legality of the new university regulations has become a matter of some dispute. The introduction of the new regulations resulted in a mass protest in February, triggering a walkout at the downtown campus. Over half of the university personnel signed a petition against the regulations, which were eventually ratified regretfully only with cosmetic changes. As the next step, the personnel associations representing professors, researchers, teachers, administration and other staff — all in all, their membership covered ca. 70% of the university community — submitted the new regulations to two law professors, Olli Mäenpää and Juha Lavapuro, who both found the regulations containing potentially unconstitutional provisions which were in conflict with the principles of the university autonomy. The case was sent to the parliamentary ombudsman, who is expected to decide on the matter at some point this year. As a result, the elections to the Academic Board are taking place under exceptional circumstances, and the members who are elected to the Academic Board will be faced with a situation where they will potentially have to make a choice between following the university regulations, or following the law and the constitution.

As if this was not enough, the last week turned into a comedy of errors, when the election lists were published. Under the current election provisions, deans, rectors and vice-rectors are not allowed to run as candidates, but this did not prevent four deans and one of the vice-rectors from the University of Technology from running as candidates. The Director of Administration settled the dispute by stating that “matters of interpretation are unavoidable during times of fusion”, and the candidates themselves resorted to special pleading by stating that they would not be acting in their current positions in the new post-fusion university. Every other part of the election rules was followed to the letter, but only the one paragraph which disbarred the big brass from running for the representative academic body was subjected to a creative interpretation. The situation was not exactly just and fair, but those are the times we live in, and since the elections are now underway, live with it we evidently must.

As most of you can probably guess, I am running for the Academic Board myself, as a candidate number 10 in Group 2 (“other teaching and research personnel and other staff”). During the weekend, I answered to the election questionnaire of the Tampere University Association of Researchers and Teachers (Tatte ry), and my answers, as well as the answers of the three other candidates who participated, can be read at the website of the Association, also in English translation. Members of the university community are no doubt aware that I am the PR-Officer of the Association, so obviously I had to answer the survey. Given the elections, I am taking a short sabbatical from my task, because it would not be quite appropriate for me to use my position for campaigning. Tatte’s acting PR-Officer during this week is Sanni Tiitinen, a Doctor of Social Sciences and a good colleague.

The election questionnaire was sent to all twenty-two candidates of Group 2, but only four of them submitted their answers. In an ensuing discussion, many of those who declined to answer cited such reasons as “manipulative” questions, a potential “agenda”, and of course also the “divisive” nature of the questionnaire. This irritation seemed to emanate from the multiple-answer part of the questionnaire, which focused on the above-described legal contradictions in the new university regulations. Answering the questions did certainly require some serious study; as it happens, given my recent responsibilities during the Finnish university strike, during which I was in charge of planning mass labor action at the University of Tampere, I had only limited time to familiarize myself with the intricacies of the Tampere3 process and the university regulations controversy. However, upon reflection, I saw no problem with answering the questionnaire which my colleagues in the Association had drafted, and I found the questions to be quite important. As it happens, after the recent threat of labor action, we now face a period of legal struggle.

The legal questions will materialize almost instantly as the new Academic Board prepares to decide on its President, and also afterwards, as the Academic Board will have to decide on the nomination of the University Board. In both these situations, the new university regulations contain provisions which may be in contradiction with the constitutionally-guaranteed university autonomy; namely, the regulations very clearly dispute the authority of the Academic Board to elect its own President, and they limit the power of the Academic Board in the nomination of the University Board. Otherwise the regulations would seem to suggest an oddly centralizing tendency, implying a situation where the Academic Board could, if necessary, actually undertake many of the responsibilities which belong more properly to the faculty councils. This crossroads between following the regulations or following the law will pose an obvious challenge to those members whom the university community will elect to the Academic Board. Professor Marja Makarow, who is in charge of the transitional board — recently derisively nicknamed as the “colonial board” — has sought to justify the new regulations by pointing to the presumed differences between foundation universities and public corporation universities; but the fact is, as Professor Lavapuro has pointed out, that the same constitutional principles of university autonomy apply in both university models.

Therefore, like it or not, the question of university autonomy will be at the core of these elections. The people who are elected to the Academic Board will have to be ready and willing to defend these principles and safeguard the authority of the Academic Board. The questions of power are of course not the only issues which are at stake at the moment. Rector Liisa Laakso has today pointed out also the question of gender equality in the nomination of the University Board. Personally, I’m quite ready to give the assurance which Laakso has requested, and guarantee that as a member of the Academic Board, I would demand the Tampere University Foundation to present an equal number of men and women as their candidates to the University Board. Obviously, eventually the Academic Board will have to focus on simple day-to-day work. Some of my opinions are already listed in the open answers of the questionnaire linked above, and I can repeat them also here.

My own perspective is the perspective of a grant researcher, who knows the problems and obstacles of an individual researcher who is constantly trying to raise funds for the next project; and having published three non-fiction books and one internationally-published monograph, I also have solid perspective on the popularization of original research. I am a historian, which places me in the intersection between humanities and social sciences, so I know the special needs of these disciplines; in particular, I wish to protect small study programs, many of which, such as philosophy, belong in the category of humanities. However, I’m not limited to any particular discipline. I have been active in academic trade union life for nine years, and I have come to know how to defend the interests of the university community as a whole, rather than focusing simply on one discipline or one faculty. In particular, I have served as a coordinator in the Network of Foreign Researchers for the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers, and defended in particular the interests of our international researchers’ community; regretfully we do not have any international candidates running for the Academic Board, but I can assure that over the years, I’ve become very familiar with the challenges which foreign researchers face in Finnish academic life. Lastly, I believe that given my experience, I am also very well-versed in the “third task” of the university, that is, interaction with the wider society.

Above all, as stated, I am committed to the university autonomy. I am ready to defend the authority of the Academic Board, but I also see the reason in delegating some of the tasks of the Academic Board to the faculty councils. As I stated in Tatte’s questionnaire, everyday matters such as the questions of curricula and degree qualifications are best decided on the spot; this is also an important feature in the university self-government and self-management. What is important is that this state of affairs will not be destroyed merely for the sake of centralizing fantasies and “strategic management”.

With these words, let the elections proceed. As mentioned, I can be voted in Group 2 with number 10. It must be stressed that these elections are individual elections, and every candidate is running as an individual. There are no lists, no electoral alliances, and no proportional counting of votes. Faculties, departments, research units and other groups may consider concentrating their votes behind the candidate they wish to support. I am not giving any recommendations; the university people will have to decide on these matters on their own, and make the necessary decisions. I am, however, endorsing all of my fellow candidates. Five of us, two professors from Group 1, and three researchers from Group 2, are campaigning as Defenders of Autonomy. Any of us is a good choice for those who are concerned of the future of the university self-government.

Those who remember me from the recent threat of strike also know that I’m ready to do legwork on the campuses. I also know that researchers and teachers don’t often have time to take a break from their work and visit panels or events. However, I can be asked to visit in department coffee-rooms and personnel meetings, and I’m also available for visit on Tuesday March 20th in the Downstairs Cafeteria of the Main Building at three o’clock in the afternoon. I can also be found from the Kauppi campus, from the cafeteria of the Arvo Building on Thursday March 22nd at two o’clock in the afternoon. From the poster below, you can memorize my looks, and you can also see “We are the University” pin in my black overcoat, a memorabilia from the university strike. The same slogan also applies in these Academic Board elections.

 

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