After eight years on AU’s board: “It’s good to see new faces on the board, but I’ve enjoyed being part of it”

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She had a seat at the table when the board voted to put AU through the most brutal round of budget cuts the university has ever suffered. She helped develop a vision for AU’s new campus. And she had a seat at the table when the board voted to split AU’s largest faculty, Science and Technology, in two. But now it’s over. Professor of computer science Susanne Bødker is bowing out after eight years on AU’s board.

2019.11.21 | Marie Groth Andersen

Professor of computer science Susanne Bødker is bowing out after eight years on AU’s board. Photo: Ida Marie Jensen/AU Foto

AU’s board

The board is Aarhus University’s highest authority and is responsible for setting the guidelines for the university’s organisation, long-term strategy and development. Each year, the board reviews and approves the university’s budget. The board also approves the university's strategy. 

The composition of the board

  • The board is comprised of 11 members, six of whom are external and five of whom are internal.
  • The internal members are elected by the university’s students and employees in the university elections.
  • The students elect two members.
  • Academic staff (VIP) elect two members.
  • Technical-administrative employees (TAP) elect one member.

Aarhus University Board before the 2019 elections

External board members:

  • Connie Hedegaard (chair)
  • Steen Riisgaard
  • Caroline Søeborg Ahlefeldt
  • Astrid Söderbergh Widding
  • Jørgen Carlsen
  • Jens Peter Christensen.

Internal members – employees:

  • Susanne Bødker (VIP)
  • Anna Louise Plaskett (TAP)
  • Søren Bro Pold (VIP)

Internal members – students:

  • Peter Tang Knudsen (KS)
  • Ditte Marie Thomsen (SR)

Read more about AU’s board  

 

Professor of computer science Susanne Bødker was elected to the AU board as an academic staff representative in the 2011 university elections, and began serving her first term in February 2012. She was then re-elected in the 2015 elections. But now it’s over, because according to AU’s by-laws, representatives can only serve two terms on the board.

As a member of AU’s highest governing body, she has contributed to making important decisions over the eight years of her service. Towards the end of her first term, she and the other board members had to vote on budget cuts than ended up costing about 400 employees their jobs. She was also involved in the development of AU’s two most recent strategic plans, as well as the framework for the development of AU’s new campus, the University City. Most recently, she participated in the vote to split her own faculty, Science and Technology in two, which will take effect on 1 January. 

What kind of room for maneuver do you have as an internal member of the board?

“What we can do is present what the situation looks like seen from the shop floor. Some issues can be difficult to understand if you don’t encounter them in your daily work. And that’s the perspective we as internal members can bring to the board.”  

A reality check

She explains that the internal members also challenge the senior management team’s calculations and statistics on the basis of their own experience as students and employees.  

“For example, the senior management teams says: We have to hire the best people. And that’s easy enough to agree on, of course. But that’s where we bring our experiences from the departments into play. Because we know how difficult it is to do that in practice. There are some basic practical challenges in relation to a policy like that, like a language barrier, for example. Namely that if we’re going to hire the very best people, a lot of them will come from abroad. I don’t have anything against colleagues from abroad, but we’re still a university where Danish is the primary language, and what comes from the ministry is also in Danish. So this involves some very concrete practical problems which we draw attention to on the board.” 

So you help give the senior management team a reality check?

“Yes, primarily the external members, because the management usually already knows this stuff.” 

What do you do to make sure you know what’s going on among employees and students around the university?

“We have a lot of contacts, for example with the union representatives and academic council members, and we talk to anyone who’ll talk to us. I do wish that more people would reach out to us. But I try to be present and visible in situations where there are a lot of employees gathered together. Most recently at the staff meeting about the division of Science and Technology, where I also asked questions to make it clear that I was present.”

Have requested more open business items on the agenda

Do you think the board’s work is visible enough?

“A lot of the matters we consider on the board are confidential, like cases involving employees and issues we can’t discuss openly out of regard for our competitiveness. And we can’t publish the minutes of our meetings. But all that aside, both employees and students have requested more open business items on the agenda, and I have the impression that this is a position our current chair agrees with.”

As internal members, can you put business items on the agenda?

“The board speaks with the senior management team through the chair, so we don’t contact the management directly. But we can write to and call the chair if we think there are issues the board and the senior management team ought to know about.” 

Can you give me any examples of cases in which you’ve done this?

“No, that’s not something I can speak about here.”  

In the wake of the big mergers

What has made the biggest impression on you in the eight years you’ve served on the board?

“I joined the board in the wake of the big mergers (The reorganization of the university in 2011 that involved reducing the number of departments from 55 to 26, and the number of faculties from nine to four. The administration was centralized in the process, ed.) Back then, there was a lot of frustration and anger, which I don’t think is the case today. We still have challenges. But in this period we’ve made some decisions I’m glad I was a part of. Such as the decision on AU’s new campus, the University City. That was a good decision for the future, and I’m looking forward to it being realized.”

A tough decision

You were also involved in the decision to make the biggest budget cuts at AU in the university’s history. What was that like?

“Finances will always be an issue we have to deal with on the board. But when I joined the board, the university’s finances were badly managed internally. That’s under control now, and we don’t see a lot of volatility there any more. Today, uncertainty is primarily due to the fact that we can’t know what our budgets will be more than one year in advance on account of the successive Finance Acts. That’s also what we’re dealing with now: we don’t know whether the temporary increase in taximeter funding for the humanities and social sciences degree programmes will be extended. The university’s finances are incredibly sensitive to the political system. But ironically enough, AU has been less vulnerable to the latest financial ups and downs than UCPH, for example, precisely because we went through the big round of cost reductions a few years ago.

But is that a decision you had to justify to AU employees who’ve been hit by the cutbacks?

“It was tough. But it’s an example of a situation in which we had to trust that when the management determined that it was necessary, that was because it actually was necessary. The consequence of expressing a lack of confidence in the senior management team would have been throwing them out. And that’s not where we were. As I see it, there’s been a solid level of trust in the senior management in recent years. I think that there’s a fundamental trust in Brian (Bech Nielsen, ed.) as rector. And that makes our role as board easier.”

Not our responsibility to speak like politicians; our job is to be ourselves

If you could give one piece of advice to the new internal members of the AU board, what would it be?

“Without a doubt, the Student Council representatives are always extremely well-prepared, and this is precisely why they have influence. They are better-prepared that us employees, and they listen to their fellow students, so they know what’s going on around the university. That’s commendable. I suppose my advice would be to listen to what’s going on – and express yourself as what you are: someone who’s on the shop floor every day. It’s not our responsibility to speak like politicians; our job is to be ourselves.”

External funding of research a challenge to freedom of research

Susanne Bødker also addresses what she sees as the challenges facing the board and the new members:

Clearly, it’s how universities are financed. In part increasing external funding of research by private foundations, and in part shifts in government policy that affect university finances. That so much money comes from private foundations is challenging to freedom of research. And it’s also going to be challenging to ensure funding for the degree programmes at Arts and BSS.”

Would you continue if you could?

“Fortunately, I don’t have to make that choice. I think it’s good to see new faces on the board. But I’ve enjoyed being part of the board.”

Translated by Lenore Messick

AU’s board

The board is Aarhus University’s highest authority and is responsible for setting the guidelines for the university’s organisation, long-term strategy and development. Each year, the board reviews and approves the university’s budget. The board also approves the university's strategy. 

The composition of the board

  • The board is comprised of 11 members, six of whom are external and five of whom are internal.
  • The internal members are elected by the university’s students and employees in the university elections.
  • The students elect two members.
  • Academic staff (VIP) elect two members.
  • Technical-administrative employees (TAP) elect one member.

Aarhus University Board before the 2019 elections

External board members:

  • Connie Hedegaard (chair)
  • Steen Riisgaard
  • Caroline Søeborg Ahlefeldt
  • Astrid Söderbergh Widding
  • Jørgen Carlsen
  • Jens Peter Christensen.

Internal members – employees:

  • Susanne Bødker (VIP)
  • Anna Louise Plaskett (TAP)
  • Søren Bro Pold (VIP)

Internal members – students:

  • Peter Tang Knudsen (KS)
  • Ditte Marie Thomsen (SR)

Read more about AU’s board 

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