Omnibus prik

“It’s true that the letter was the catalyst. But it wasn’t the reason for the decision”

Dean Brian Bech Nielsen underlines that the decision to divide the department into two temporary units was made following meetings with groups of academics and other staff.

“Let me debunk one myth immediately: I have taken action based on a letter signed by a very, very significant proportion of the department. This letter was the direct catalyst for my reaction – in fact, I think that any failure to take action would have been dereliction of duty on my part.”

Lots of people have heard about the letter sent by the Aarhus researchers to the dean. But few people know what it said – particularly the staff at the Danish Centre for Environment and Energy. And they can’t help wondering about this – after all, the letter has had major consequences for the entire department.

“I must underline that the decision was based on the discussions I had with groups of academics and other staff from both Aarhus and the Danish Centre for Environment and Energy.”

And he continues:

“During these discussions it became obvious that the staff at the Department of Bioscience felt that nobody was listening to them. They felt their identity was under threat, and they felt side-lined because they felt they were no longer represented in the management. Their sense of frustration had reached such a pitch that the decision I made was the only possible option.”

The dean also explains that in their letter the researchers from Aarhus suggested that the department should be divided into two independent departments:

“They actually suggested a division into two different departments. But I’d like to underline that what we have done is create two temporary units. The department has not been split into two – it’s still one department!”

More letters in the pipeline?

The fact that a letter from the Aarhus researchers was the direct catalyst leading Bech Nielsen to examine the situation at the Department of Bioscience might encourage other people to put pen to paper, too. After all, a number of people expressed similar frustrations in the psychological workplace assessment in 2012.

You say that the researchers felt pressurised and frustrated because it was hard for them to find their feet in a single big setup. Does that mean that other people who feel the same way can also just write a letter to you, and that you will then do something about it? There are such people out there, after all.

“What’s happened here is that I’ve been considering the main academic area for which I’m responsible. I’ve been talking to groups of academics and other staff to get a clear view of the situation. And I’ve taken action. This doesn’t mean that you automatically get what you want by simply writing a letter to the dean. But of course the dean will listen to what people think. And consider the options with a view to making things work better.”

You’re going to be the rector of the university very soon, and you have already said that there are changes ahead. Is this one of your changes? And can we expect more of the same kind of thing?

“I won’t say anything about what we can expect until I’m sitting firmly in the saddle. This is a transition period for me, so I have no further comment. But you can regard this latest step as evidence of the fact that I am prepared to listen and will try to understand the problems that we are facing at present. And that I’m interested in finding solutions.”