Finally, the divorce is official

The marriage has been in trouble for a long time. Not because they don’t care about each other and the children - because they do. They have also struggled to make it work. But neither party is thriving and if they are to do so again, there is no avoiding the hard facts: The Department of Business Communication needs a divorce. The business language programmes are leaving the department at BSS and moving to Arts at the end of the year, where they will join up with the language study programmes.

[Translate to English:] Institut for Erhvervskommunikation skal skilles. Erhvervssprogene og virksomhedskommunikation går fra hinanden. Foto: Melissa Bach Yildirim og Maria Randima

The analogy of a marriage on the rocks involving the department's sections for language and communication is widespread among the department's employees, and all the sources that Omnibus has talked to basically agree that the impending divorce is the right solution.

The only solution

"I'm pleased that we’ve gotten divorced. No one wants a divorce, but I think it’s the only solution, and now we can all move on," says Associate Professor Anne Schjoldager, who specialises in translation and carries out research in the field of English.

She has been a member of the coordination group that has worked on the merger of AU's language programmes, and is also one of the employees who will move to Arts at the turn of the year. The same applies to Associate Professor Tina Paulsen Christensen, who is also programme coordinator for German. She is also satisfied with the divorce and wants to look towards the future:

"Now we’ve finally got divorced and what we need is a fast decision in relation to the rest of the department. We need to finally divide everything up so we can sort out licenses and student places."

Tough process

The degree programme resizing has had a particular impact on the financial situation of the Department of Business Communication in recent years, placing it under pressure and in turn affecting the cohesiveness of the department, resulting in a de facto division of the department into two sections: Business Languages and Business Communication. There has been a long-standing discussion about merging the language programmes at BSS and Arts and the two researchers say this has been a tough process.

"Within the department there have been many differences of opinion between the two sections (language and communication, ed.). I think there were many people who felt that they were not sufficiently involved in the process during the period up until the announcement that languages would be fused with Arts. On the other hand, we have found the meetings and negotiations with Arts to be very positive and constructive. This meant that we again sat at the negotiating table," says Christensen.

"I found that the people at Arts were interested in what we can do. It’s important for me to hear them say that we’re welcome, and I don’t feel we’ve been welcome at BSS, which has a hard time understanding what our degree programmes are all about," says Schjoldager, while emphasising that this is her own personal opinion.

Detrimental for commitment and job satisfaction

Associate Professor Bo Laursen, who conducts research and lectures in corporate communication, calls the process horrid and wretched:

"They’ve split the department into two camps and created a great deal of uncertainty, which has been very detrimental for commitment and job satisfaction," he says.

The most recent psychological WPA makes evident that there have been problems with the psychological work environment at the department. It shows that only a little more than half of the employees feel comfortable at work. Only approximately one fifth would recommend their workplace to others, and more than half of the employees feel themselves to be exhausted.

Academic rivalry going back many years

According to Laursen, the department's problems go back further than the beginning of discussions among the faculty management teams at BSS and Arts of the possibility of a merger of the language programmes. He believes that the problems began as far back as the beginning of the 1990s, when some employees who are now part of the business communication group developed the research and education area of business communication as a supplement to the department's previous academic focus on linguistics and language use in commercial contexts. He explains:

"This is where the seeds were sown for an internal academic rivalry that has been difficult for the department to handle, and which has given rise to a lot of friction and conflict over the years. And which has culminated with the two environments going their separate ways. I find the organisational division that has now taken place logical and appropriate, because it mirrors two very different academic fields."

With more than a decade of language research and teaching behind him, Laursen believes that the merger between the language programmes at BSS and Arts is a sensible move from a financial perspective.

"Educationally there’s a big academic overlap where it makes sense to combine economies of scale with specialisation in the form of different tracks. The merger can run into problems in that the language environment programmes at BSS and Arts respectively constitute two different cultures with quite different research areas and approaches to language," he says.  

Business brand must be preserved

Both Tina Paulsen Christensen and Anne Schjoldager are very concerned about whether their degree programmes can hold on to their business language profile, and whether they themselves can continue to work with international and foreign language business communication as researchers and lecturers once they move to Arts. That the business brand will be preserved:

"Well, we're worried about how things will turn out when we become humanists. What counts most of all is that we can maintain our international business communication brand. When we move to Arts we’ll become part of the largest language environment in Scandinavia and I hope and believe that this will strengthen the language aspect of our degree programmes, while we can at the same time retain our commercial orientation,” says Schjoldager.

"I see the collaboration with Arts as an opportunity for language, both cultural and business language, to survive in these degree programme resizing times. We need each other. It's not just us standing there begging. Arts has also said that they want a higher degree of commercial orientation in their language degree programmes," adds Christensen.

Difficulty dividing the assets

As with many other divorces, the Department of Business Communication is having trouble dividing up its assets. The Dean's Office at BSS wants to move the section for business communication to the Department of Management, which will mean a de facto closure of the department. A majority of the remaining employees, together with the degree programme council, the Communication Council, want to see the department continue as an independent department at BSS after the language programmes move to Arts. The employee group and the degree programme council have written to the University Board and argued for the department's independence, and at its most recent meeting the board chose to postpone the decision on what to do with the section of the department that is not moving to Arts.

Students: The merger will strengthen the language programmes

In their letter to the University Board, the Communication Council students express their support for the merger of AU's language programmes. They believe this will enhance the language ability of the business communication graduates, but they also point out that neither the students from BSS or Arts have been involved in the development of the courses for the new merged language programmes. They also argue that the Department of Business Communication should maintain its independence:

"We would like to see the department remain a small but strong department. As a degree programme council, we have a strong and good relationship with the department management team, and this helps to ensure that the students are involved and consulted in the development of the academic and social study environment. We fear that the merger with the Department of Management will result in a less close contact between our students and the management," says chair of the degree programme council Rasmus Schou Laursen.

He adds that the degree programme council strongly urge the management to at least maintain the department's board of studies, because this is where the students are more strongly represented compared to a larger combined board of studies with fewer representatives from the individual degree programmes.  

Employees want to retain the department

Associate Professor Birte Asmuß is an employee representative in the local liaison committee, and in an email to Omnibus she confirms that the employees in the section for corporate communication prefer to continue as an independent department, and that they have presented their views in various forums:

"We see the postponement of the decision on the section's future organisation as an indication that the board wishes to make the decision about our future organisation on the best possible basis, which we in the section are pleased about. The section will therefore continue its constructive dialogue with the management about our future location." 

Omnibus has tried to get a comment on the department's situation from Department Head Christa Thomsen, but despite repeated requests, we have not managed to come into contact with her and hear her views.

Translated by Peter Lambourne.