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60-year old Latin professor was to be sacked. After protests - his research saved

Dismissal retracted — Associate professor in Latin Christian Troelsgård would have lost his life’s work and calling if the University of Copenhagen had maintained his dismissal after almost 27 years of employment. After an unusual about-face on the part of the university, he will continue half time. This is after massive support from researchers and students. Troelsgård himself is still critical of how the process played out.

Wednesday morning on 8 May 2019 and Associate Professor in Latin Christian Troelsgård was sitting in front of his computer at the Saxo Institute on South Campus, part of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Copenhagen.

His faculty was to find DKK 31 million in savings, and everyone knew it.

Employees were therefore told that they had to keep an eye on their inbox, because faculty management would be sending out e-mails to everyone who had been selected for dismissal.

Christian Troelsgård and some of his four colleagues, who have offices on the same corridor, had exchanged morbid jokes that it might be one of them who would get the message.

Troelsgård is 60 years old, and he has been employed at the University of Copenhagen for almost 27 years – from exactly 1 September 1992.

The email came in at five minutes past nine. He opened it:

»The Faculty of Humanities at the University of Copenhagen intends to dismiss you from your position as Associate Professor at the Saxo Institute as a result of a round of adjustments to the Faculty of Humanities’ finances,« it stated.

Did not accept his dismissal

At first he did not understand it, Christian Troelsgård remembers.

»It seemed quite surreal,« he says.

 

Christian Troelsgård decided to fight for his position. And something highly unusual happened in a dismissal case of this type. He actually got something out of it.

»In May, I felt that my work, and my longstanding international research with partners all over Europe and the rest of the world, was just too important for me to just give up. I found the decision to be a wrong one, and I wanted a more scientific process in the university’s and the faculty’s administration,« he says.

The case has now ended with Christian Troelsgård agreeing to go from full-time to part-time.

After the summer vacation, he started 19 August on his job, and in the coming months, he will continue working as before, full time until 31 December 2019, but he will do no further teaching. Only research.

From 1 January 2020, Troelsgård is to work part-time as a researcher on a three-year contract that he has entered with the University of Copenhagen. He is guaranteed, in other words, salary for approximately 3.5 years, and he will get a pension as a full-time employee.

Christian Troelsgård understands that in the future, he will have to find funding for his research and his remaining salary up to full time from foundations that he applies for himself.

86 year-old research project can continue

During the course of the summer, Christian Troelsgård spoke several times with his trade union, the Danish Association of Masters and PhDs (DM), about his job situation. He remembers how they said that a university firing an associate professor, and then deciding to rescind their decision, only happens in ‘extremely rare cases’.

It is highly unusual that Christian Troelsgård will be allowed to continue, but he is also an important part of an international research project in Byzantine music which has run at the University of Copenhagen for 86 years.

Since 2017, Christian Troelsgård has been director of the Monumenta Musicae Byzantinae, which was recognised by The International Union of Academies back in 1933.

At the same time, the University of Copenhagen was made the permanent home for the research project.

Christian Troelsgård’s CV:

Studies in classical philology (1977-) and musicology (1982-) at the University of Copenhagen.

Master of Arts from the University of Copenhagen 1987 (latin and music).

PhD in Byzantine musicology 1993.

In 2014, Christian Troelsgård was elected to the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters

Christian Troelsgård says that his biggest problem with his dismissal was to have to say goodbye to his research project. And he finds it difficult to understand that management at the faculty did not know what he was doing. This is how he perceives the situation.

»I find it odd that they initially decided to interrupt what I was doing, because I have never hidden what I was working on. All my research activities are documented. After giving me notice they must have suddenly realised, and changed their minds,« says Christian Troelsgård.

According to a letter from the Saxo Institute department head Stuart Ward from 24 June this year, it is precisely »the risk of putting the Monumenta Musicae Byzantinae, which we held in-house since 1931, in an untenable situation,« that is the reason why the University of Copenhagen changed its mind and gave Christian Troelsgård an offer to continue.

Rehired as ‘damage control’

He guesses that the University of Copenhagen offered him a contract with reappointment on part-time for three years as a kind of mitigation scheme – as damage control.

It will lead to the destruction of a unique research environment that was built up at the University of Copenhagen since 1930.

Associate professor emeritus Karsten Fledelius

»I hope something good comes out of the contract that I have now signed. But I wonder about the process, because I have always registered my research activities and my publications, and my research was highlighted in the internal evaluation report (Research Quality Assessment of the Saxo Institute), which the University of Copenhagen paid for last year. That is why they should have been aware that research of international significance was coordinated by me,« he says.

He knows that his head of department, Professor Stuart Ward, issued an explanation to many of Christian Troelsgård’s Danish and international research collaboration partners to say that management has learned something about the importance of the project.

»This is – despite the background to all this – a positive thing. I think it is a kind of compromise or damage control, where the official objective of reducing the number of teaching staff in Greek and Latin is still being fulfilled,« says Christian Troelsgård.

Research project began in Copenhagen in 1931

Christian Troelsgård says that he recognises that it can be difficult for outsiders to understand what Monumenta Musicae Byzantinae has to do with Latin at the Saxo Institute.

The project is to study the significance of Byzantine music for the development of musical notation and of music theory in Europe. That is why it is all about the early musical culture of the whole of Europe.

The Byzantine music consists of a large collection of music manuscripts written in Greek, which Christian Troelsgård also masters. And if anyone is to understand the music, they have to read the original sources. The Latin, Western European reception of Greek music theory and Byzantine church music is an important part of his research field.

Christian Troelsgård looks into a cupboard at KUA2 where he stores all of his microfilm with original sources on Byzantine music history.
image: Anders Fjeldberg
This is where Christian Troelsgård reads the Byzantine original sources in Greek - and continues to work with them so he can say more about the overall music history of Europe.
image: Anders Fjeldberg

The musical notation has to be deciphered – the different systems have to be interpreted in much the same way as unknown alphabets – and Christian Troelsgård is the expert on this.

The research project Monumenta Musicae Byzantinae is old. It was formally opened in Copenhagen in 1931, based in the ‘classical philology’ programme. At the time, the Byzantine music manuscripts were largely unknown. New sources have subsequently been examined and new methods have been used, so it is a long and coherent research tradition that could have been lost.

There was no guarantee that it would have been possible to transfer the project with all its collections of sources (especially in the form of microfilm and specialist literature) to another university in Europe if it had been closed at the University of Copenhagen.

The prospect of losing Monumenta Musicae Byzantinae gave Christian Troelsgård many a sleepless night in May and June speculating about the future if he had to give up his position.

Outpouring of supporting statements

After 8 May however, the statements of support began to flow in – from both at home and abroad.

Affects three disciplines:

According to Christian Troelsgård, the Byzantine music in the Monumenta Musicae Byzantinae is related to three areas of research: Byzantine studies, musicology, and classical philology.

 

»It will lead to the destruction of a unique research environment that has been built up within the University of Copenhagen since 1930,« wrote associate professor emeritus Karsten Fledelius, Department of Media, Cognition and Communication at the University of Copenhagen, who is now the chair of the Danish National Committee for Byzantine Studies and vice president of the Association Internationale des Etudes Byzantines.

Karsten Fledelius praised Christian Troelsgård for being able to include many aspects to each text:

»Christian Troelsgård has involved modern technology and social anthropology in his analyses of the relationship between writing, oral tradition and musical performance practice,« Karsten Fledelius wrote to the Faculty of Humanities’ dean Jesper Kallestrup and the head of department in a declaration of support sent on 7 June.

Christian Troelsgård’s students of Greek and Latin also submitted on 14 June a declaration of support to the head of department Stuart Ward. A total of 27 students signed the declaration, which included:

»Christian is a much-revered teacher and supervisor (…) in all contexts he shows an incredible industriousness, as well as an awareness of the individual student’s needs (…) Even outside working hours, Christian spends a lot of time in a study programme setting.«

Supporting statements from both Danish and international colleagues

In addition to the declarations of support from Karsten Fledelius and Christian Troelsgård’s students, a number of support statements came from associate professors and professors at the Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics, the Faculty of Theology’s Section for Ecclesiastical History, and reputable researchers from Stanford, Princeton, Ohio State University, Thessaloniki, Athens and from an Italian professor from Palermo who is the president of the Comitato Italiano per l’edizione e lo Studio delle Fonti Musicali Bizantine.

This last declaration of support was about a book project on Byzantine music and its significance for European cultural history. This is what Christian Troelsgård is currently working on, and there are several other joint publishing projects coming up.

Finally, in order to save the Monumenta Musicae Byzantinae, a petition was launched online, which more than 2,600 researchers, teachers and other academics in Europe have signed so far.

Despair and amazement over management decision

In the middle of June, when the University Post first spoke to Christian Troelsgård, he said that he despaired and was amazed at management’s decision to fire him. He said that he found it difficult to concentrate on writing the research articles that he had started, and that he only took care of daily routine tasks as he thought a lot about his dismissal case. He said that he was to go out and find a job as a teacher of Latin at an upper secondary school, as many of them needed Latin teachers.

»In my head I was still baffled by how management could think that the Monumenta Musicae Byzantinae project could suddenly be interrupted,« says Christian Troelsgård.

 

Things are different now.

He has saved his research project, he can sleep better at night – and he has been given the opportunity to reflect on where the humanities are heading. He says that his case is symptomatic of a trend in what the management of the University of Copenhagen wants for humanities research in the future.

»I do not find that it is the right direction for the Faculty of Humanities to go if they only host projects that are externally funded. We have fewer sources of funding and foundations that we can apply to than, say, the Faculty of Medical and Health sciences and the Faculty of Science,« he says.

Books by Christian Troelsgård

Byzantine Neumes is a handbook on medieval musical notation. The book will soon be available in translation to Modern Greek.

Chants of the Byzantine Rite, the Italo-Albanian Tradition in Sicily.

Christian Troelsgård is also editor of Volume 1 of Dansk Editionshistorie (Greek and Latin text versions) with own contributions on early classic versions, medieval literature, Monumenta Musicae Byzantinae and Saxo’s history of Denmark (Gesta Danorum). The work is to be published in 2020.

 

His own research is a kind of humanities basic research that does not have an immediate application, and which, in his experience, it is difficult to find funding for.

»It is often also necessary to have long term funding, and no one wants to obligate themselves to something that lasts more than a maximum of four to five years. This means that the quality of these types of research projects will be lower. They require too much work on the part of researchers to start afresh with new applications every few years, where they have to justify themselves and their projects,« says Christian Troelsgård.

Humanities research is changing

This will lead to changes in humanities research.

»The time of the long-term projects may be over, and they had qualities that we will no longer have,« he says.

For his own specialised research project in Byzantine music, some of the researchers who have supported Christian Troelsgård have told him that he can apply for funding from, say, the US and from foundations in Greece.

Christian Troelsgård says that this would also lead to limitations.

»I am working on a joint European project on the use of notations in Byzantine music and on Europe’s musical roots, and it is important that it is not monopolised by a particular nation. It must be an international collaboration and be as open as possible. The modern research landscape, with foundation financing over shorter time periods, is not suitable for this. But if this is where we are going to go, then I must play by the rules, even though I do not consider it to be optimal,« says Christian Troelsgård.

Wants a more proactive management

Troelsgård knows that the DKK 31 million cuts at the Faculty of Humanities (the latest of several rounds of cuts) are a result of decisions made by politicians in the Danish parliament at Christiansborg. But he is critical of University of Copenhagen management nonetheless.

»This is a difficult thing to discuss. I acknowledge this, and you do not necessarily have to protect the older employees. But I do not think that management did their proper homework on this,« says Christian Troelsgård.

He says that management should have shown due diligence and have done more to get the money that was needed for smaller subjects like Latin to continue.

»If management had done this, if it had been proactive towards all the politicians at Christiansborg and done what they had to do on time, then management would have procured the necessary funding for the smaller study programmes. Smaller study programmes cannot compete on an equal footing with the other major subjects, and it is the task of management to draw attention to the special case of the smaller research areas,« says Christian Troelsgård.

Dean: »All redundancies are a loss«

The University Post asked the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, Jesper Kallestrup, to comment the article and showed him Christian Troelsgård’s statements.

Jesper Kallestrup responds in an email:

»Of course all redundancies are a loss academically – both for the faculty’s teaching and its research. It is inevitable and, of course, regrettable. In the faculty management we have done what we could to ensure that the cuts would have as few negative consequences as possible,« he says and continues:

»The reason we have cuts is that we have fewer students than we had in the past. This means that it is the Danish parliament’s decision to reduce study programme intake that is the main affect on our finances. This decision was made in 2014, and we did a lot at the time to put our stamp on this political process – both in relation to the larger and the smaller subjects.«

Christian Troelsgård believes that when he has stopped as a lecturer in Latin, the remaining teaching staff will be overburdened.

»My former colleagues will be very busy, because they have to teach even more courses. The remaining people say that they are lacking in staff, and even though there have been fewer students this year, there will not be fewer subjects or compulsory courses to be taught,« he says.

Process still difficult to understand

He recognises management’s right to dismiss him when they wanted it.

The management personally wrote to Christian Troelsgård that »the faculty therefore recommends that you be dismissed on the basis of the faculty’s overall assessment of its long-term staff needs, and it must therefore be pointed out that this is not because you have not fulfilled your assignments in a satisfactory manner.«

Christian Troelsgård is well aware that because his dismissal was a part of a larger round of layoffs, where management disposed of many employees at the same time to save money on the budget, neither he, nor other employees who were nominated for dismissal, have a legal requirement for a more thorough explanation.

But it is still difficult for him to understand that, after completing all his tasks satisfactorily for almost 27 years, he can be dismissed at the age of 60.

In other places, this would not be possible.

»In Germany, for example, this would be unthinkable. Universities there can only sack an employee if they have raped a student or stolen money. I have therefore also had to explain to some of my foreign colleagues that I have not done anything like this. The rules for dismissals are just tougher in Denmark than in our neighbouring countries,« says Christian Troelsgård.

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