Rector forced to intervene: Serious cooperation issues between the dean of ST and the Department of Computer Science

Frustrated professors, the resignation of a department head and a temporary management set-up. This is the provisional result of long-term difficulties in the cooperation between Dean Niels Chr. Nielsen at ST on one side and former Department Head Lars Birkedal and the professors at the Department of Computer Science on the other.

[Translate to English:] Rektor Brian Bech Nielsen, dekan Niels Chr. Nielsen på det naturvidenskabelige fakultet ST,konstitueret institutleder Kurt Jensen og tidligere institutleder Lars Birkedal fra Institut for Datalogi. Fotos: AU Foto

"I’ve asked you to come so I can give you a status update regarding the situation at the department, particularly a status on the management of the department. Some of what I’m going to say is a somewhat delicate matter, so I’m going to stick to my manuscript (...) " 

This is how Kurt Jensen, who is acting department head at the Department of Computer Science, began a meeting on Friday of last week for the tenured academic and technical and administrative staff at the department.

Rector takes action

At seven o'clock in the morning of the very same day, Kurt Jensen and all the other professors at the department had attended a meeting with Rector Brian Bech Nielsen. Here the rector had informed the professors of his decision regarding the management of the department in the coming time.

The rector's initiative to assemble the professors was the culmination of a number of discussions over recent weeks about the cooperation issues and difficulties that have over a period of years led in particular to an ever more strained relationship between Dean Niels Chr. Nielsen on one side and the former Department Head Lars Birkedal and the professors at computer science on the other.

Why did the department head resign?

Lars Birkedal does not wish to comment on the matter to Omnibus. Instead, he refers us to acting department head Kurt Jensen.

After his introduction to the meeting last Friday, he went on to tell the employees from computer science the following:

"As some of you know, in recent years there have been major disagreements between the dean at Science and Technology, Nielsen Chr. Nielsen, and the group of professors at our department. These disagreements led to Lars Birkedal resigning from his position as department head a few months ago. This was deeply regretted by the group of professors."

These grounds for Birkedal’s resignation directly contradict what could be read in a news item on the staff portal at ST on 15 September. This stated that Birkedal had decided to resign because he would rather spend his time on research and teaching and that he was therefore returning to his former position as professor at the department.

Hard to fathom

It was also a little difficult to fathom that Birkedal should have decided to stop almost from overnight and at a time when he and the department were about to implement the first phase of a digitisation initiative. Also because AU's board had only a few months earlier green lighted a digitisation initiative that the senior management team had agreed to support with DKK 67.5 million form the pool of strategic funds. The initiative means, among other things, a big increase in the intake to the department's study programmes and an increase in the academic staff at computer science over the next four to five years amounting to 18 permanent positions.

Lack of involvement and influence

Several people from the department have told Omnibus that the reason for the increasingly poor relationship between the dean and the department was that Birkedal and the professors had for a longer period felt there was a lack of involvement from Niels Chr. Nielsen's side in relation to the digitisation initiative, among other things, and that they were not given influence.

Omnibus would like to have had the opportunity to give Dean Niels Chr. Nielsen's view of the matter. Not least to give him the opportunity to answer the criticism of lack of involvement and influence that has been raised from within the department. But as the dean is taking part in a conference, it has not been possible to contact him either yesterday or today.

First no, then yes

In light of the disagreements with the dean, the resignation of the department head and the frustration among the professors, it is easy to understand why Kurt Jensen decided to stick to his manuscript when explaining the situation to the eager listeners from the Department of Computer Science at last Friday’s meeting. In addition to saying he deeply regretted Lars Birkedal’s resignation, he announced that a new temporary management of the department had been found.

Kurt Jensen, who was head of computer science between 1998-2014 and is today deputy department head, explained that at the morning meeting Rector Brian Bech Nielsen had asked him to accept the position of acting department head. A position he had now accepted – even though he had otherwise turned it down when Niels Chr. Nielsen asked him to take the same position following Lars Birkedal’s resignation in September. 

Why did you turn down the position when you were asked by the dean?

"I didn't wish to be part of the faculty management team under the conditions that Lars Birkedal had experienced."

So what made you say yes last Friday?

"That it was the rector who asked me and that you must have compelling reasons to turn down the rector. In addition, we were assured that some of the matters over which there’s been the greatest disagreement will be reassessed."

Kurt Jensen will not specify the matters in question.

Omnibus would also have liked to hear from Rector Brian Bech Nielsen about what led him to intervene in the matter of the cooperation issues between Dean Niels Chr. Nielsen and the Department of Computer Science. However, the rector has not wished to comment on the matter. 

The temporary management team at computer science, which in addition to Kurt Jensen consists of the three professors, Lars Birkedal, Susanne Bødker and Ivan Damgård, has begun the process of finding a new department head. In connection with this, Kurt Jensen explains that the application deadline has been extended from 3 December this year until next spring.

Translated by Peter Lambourne