I want to make the world a better place – or in any case not worse

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Same procedure as last year...? No, because unlike Miss Sophie in Dinner for One, AU doesn’t turn 90 every year. Omnibus is celebrating the university’s 90th with a series of short interviews with employees about their relationship to the university.

2018.11.26 | Miriam Brems

Before a stint at the university in Cape Town as a guest professor, Jørgen Elklit discovered that both AU and his host university were on the same list of the ten most beautiful campuses in the world. According to Elklit, you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of AU’s beauty, because “there’s a special satisfaction in being somewhere with so much harmony in the architecture”. Photo: Ida Marie Jensen.

AU’s 90th

  • “In the hope that that the scientific and scholarly research which shall take place here may take place in spirit and truth, I hereby inaugurate Aarhus University.”
  • King Christian X inaugurated the first university in Jutland with these words, on 11 September 1933. The very university where you work – or study: Aarhus University.
  • Omnibus is celebrating AU’s 90th birthday with a series of short interviews: we asked AU employees to answer three questions about their relationship to the university. And about their birthday wishes for the guest of honor.
  • Together with university historian Palle Lykke, we’ve also delved into the archives to find photos from the first nine decades at AU. They’re accompanied by a short text by Palle that illuminates the high points (and low points) documented by the photographer’s lens over the years.
  • And we’ve asked the photographers from AU Photo to revisit the same spots to show you what they look like today. The anniversary series ‘AU’s 90th’ will run throughout the autumn.

Jørgen Elklit, professor of political science and MatchPoints Seminar convenor, employed at Aarhus University at the Department of Political Science since 1 February 1970.

Why are you still here?

“My research interest is elections and democratization. This work allows me to influence developments in other countries by providing advice and guidance in connection with democratization. This is where I can apply some of all that theory found in the heavy books on these shelves, and maybe contribute to making the world a better place – or in any case, not worse. My colleagues tease me and say that things are going worse everywhere I’ve served as an advisor. South Africa, Bosnia, Afghanistan – it’s an embarrassing list, but if I and my colleagues hadn’t been there, it might have gone even worse.”

An editorial aside: It’s worth noting here that several of these countries have in fact honoured Elklit with awards for his work on democratization.

“Something that also influenced my decision to remain at AU is that I’m not a barrier to new blood coming in. We’ve figured out a solution in terms of my salary so I’m not a heavy drain on that account which would prevent the department from hiring junior researchers, and that means a lot to me. I also share an office with one of our postdocs, because I don’t want to reserve a big office for myself when I’m spending a lot of my time doing research in Sweden.”

What’s your favorite spot at AU?

“It’s the staff lounge at Political Science. When I started at university, the lounge was part of the Department of Mathematics and housed the department’s cafeteria. My fellow students and I went there a lot because it was cosy, the food was good, and you could have a beer – no matter what your major was. After Political Science took over the building, the space remained a cafeteria for a while until it became a library, and finally was turned into a staff lounge.”

“Of course, some people sulked about us taking the liberty of locking the door. But the lounge is comparable to a teacher’s lounge at a primary school. It’s our private space where we can speak freely together, hold meetings and discuss our ‘pupils’, and the lounge contributes to social integration at the department. When we eat lunch at the long cafeteria tables, everyone’s free to mix with everyone else. The lounge also has a lot of good memories from parties, including the department’s annual Christmas party and my own higher doctorate celebration.

Jørgen Elklit’s favorite spot at AU is the staff lounge at the Department of Political Science. It’s a sanctuary for the department’s academic staff where they can meet for lunch at the cafeteria tables – the department’s social melting pot. Photo: Ida Marie Jensen.

What is your birthday wish for AU?

“We’re living in a time when a lot of things are changing. So it’s important to maintain or develop our academic standards. We must not compromise on maintaining the highest possible standard, both in teaching and in research, in an attempt to reach other goals. This quality isn’t something you can measure on international rankings, because they aren’t really worth that much in reality. You might say that the universities use ranking lists like politicians’ use opinion surveys: if the survey shows progress for your own party, it means a lot, but if it shows a setback, surveys are irrelevant. There are a lot of rankings, and while they measure some of the same indicators, they also measure a lot of different ones. This means they’re less certain than some people make them out to be. If they were certain, well then all of them would rank the universities the same way –and they don’t. So the universities can elect to focus on precisely the list that ranks them highly. It’s a better idea to look at the quality of the individual departments and their research specialisation. And typically, you can also sense whether things are going well at your own department.”

AU’s 90th

  • “In the hope that that the scientific and scholarly research which shall take place here may take place in spirit and truth, I hereby inaugurate Aarhus University.”
  • King Christian X inaugurated the first university in Jutland with these words, on 11 September 1933. The very university where you work – or study: Aarhus University.
  • Omnibus is celebrating AU’s 90th birthday with a series of short interviews: we asked AU employees to answer three questions about their relationship to the university. And about their birthday wishes for the guest of honor.
  • Together with university historian Palle Lykke, we’ve also delved into the archives to find photos from the first nine decades at AU. They’re accompanied by a short text by Palle that illuminates the high points (and low points) documented by the photographer’s lens over the years.
  • And we’ve asked the photographers from AU Photo to revisit the same spots to show you what they look like today. The anniversary series ‘AU’s 90th’ will run throughout the autumn.
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