Brian Bech Nielsen has offered to resign as rector

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Rector Brian Bech Nielsen acknowledges that he had a part in the unlawful decision to postpone responding to Information’s freedom of information request until after the university’s own account of the ‘beef report affair’ had been made public. However, he explains, he was not aware that the decision was unlawful at the time. As a consequence, he has offered to step down as rector. But a unanimous board and the remaining members of the senior management team still have confidence in Brian Bech Nielsen’s leadership.

2021.06.04 | Marie Groth Andersen

Brian Bech Nielsen has offered to resign as rector. But a unanimous board and the remaining members of the senior management team still have confidence in Brian Bech Nielsen’s leadership. Archive photo: Lars Kruse

Updated May 8 2021 at 2 pm: The meeting in which the rector participated took place in October, not in September, as the article initially stated.   

In a statement published on au.dk, Aarhus University’s rector Brian Bech Nielsen acknowledges that he participated in the meeting in October 2019 at which the decision to postpone responding to five freedom of information requests from the newspaper Information until after the university’s own review of the ‘beef report affair’ had been made public.

A decision that is a breach of the Environmental Information Act, which states that freedom of information requests for documents must be responded to without delay.

In addition, AU subsequently covered up the decision in two statements to the Danish Agency for Higher Education and Science in the agency’s capacity of supervisory authority. Aarhus University has just been forcefully critiqued by the agency for both actions, which the agency describes as “highly condemnable”.

MORE ON THIS STORY: Government agency issues sharp critique of Aarhus University: Withheld documents and submitted a false explanation

However, in his statement published on the AU website, the rector maintains that he was not aware that the decision was unlawful – and that attention to this fact was not raised at the meeting.

“Despite the fact that I was not aware that the decision was unlawful, I must acknowledge that I participated in making it. As a consequence of this, I immediately informed the chair of Aarhus University’s board and offered to resign from my position. The good reputation of Aarhus University and its rector is paramount, in my view,” says Brian Bech Nielsen in the statement.

Continued confidence in Brian Bech Nielsen as rector

At an extraordinary meeting, the board discussed the case, and unanimously asserted its continued confidence in Brian Bech Nielsen as rector of Aarhus University. Connie Hedegaard, chair of the Aarhus University board, explains in the statement that the board has no grounds to believe that Brian Bech Nielsen had been informed that the decision was against the law. 

“For this reason, this affair does not shake our confidence in the rector and the strong course he has charted for AU. On the contrary, an important process of changing the culture at AU is in progress, to ensure that AU’s positive contributions to society are in focus rather than messy business of this kind. We know that this work is in good hands with Brian Bech Nielsen,” Connie Hedegaard says.

The remaining members of the board have also expressed their unconditional support for the rector, according to the statement. 

Omnibus will follow up on this article with an interview with Connie Hedegaard, chair of AU’s board.

Translated by Lenore Messick

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