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'Academic Balance' election list: You should be rewarded for being a good teacher

The lead candidates — It was a wide-ranging philosophical conversation that inspired professors to fight for more collaboration across disciplines. Now they are running as academics for the UCPH Board, where they will work for more prestige for teaching and better funding for small research areas.

The University of Copenhagen is off balance.

Small research areas are being squeezed by large foundations. Teaching does not have the same prestige as research. And it is quite difficult to work together across faculties.

This is according to Christian Kapel, professor of zoology, SCIENCE, and Louise Kruse Jensen, professor of pathology, SUND.

They are running for election as VIP (academic) representatives to the University of Copenhagen’s Board for the list ‘Academic Balance’. The members of the list have collaborated for several years in the Academic Council and the Senate.

However, this is the first time that the list stands for the Board election.

»I have sat on the Academic Council for a total of three terms, and in recent years I have become aware of an imbalance. The university has a broad composition of employees who all contribute to creating good education and good research, but there is a distortion in terms of what it is that has priority,« says Christian Kapel, who is number one on the ranked list.

»Teaching is given less value because it has less prestige. And we must draw attention towards this, because – let’s face it – we’re here as much to teach as we are to research. Without good education there will be no good research,« he says. Louise Kruse Jensen adds:

»I have established my VIP (academic) position within the past ten years. In that process, I really learned that as a academic you have to make sure that the research is your strongest focus. Because you are not rewarded to the same extent for being a skilled teacher.«

However, academics’ tasks are not the only thing that is off balance. The prioritization of the various research areas also lacks balance in the distribution of research funds, says Louise Kruse Jensen.

»It is important that there is room for all areas of research and that the research is free. We experience that research freedom is being pressured by the fact that particular research areas are often favored when the large foundations distribute their funds,« she says.

The two top candidates teach and research themselves in the STEM areas, which rarely struggle with funding as much as the non-STEM fiels. However, they believe it is important that the university continues to accommodate and create opportunities for many types of research.

»History shows that many of the major breakthroughs have come about through free basic research. You are probably a bit naive if you think you can always predict what will be important in the future. And that’s what happens when large financing foundations accomodate certain areas,« says Louise Kruse Jensen.

Ideas sprout across disciplines

Perhaps few people understand why areas far from their own can be important. And according to Academic Balance, the university should therefore create a better framework for interdisciplinary collaboration.

»Our list consists of people from very different professions, all of whom have experience from either work committees, senates, the Academic Council or the like. We know what goes on inside many corners of the university, and there should be more of that breadth at UCPH,« says Christian Kapel and adds:

»After working together across the councils for the past few years, we felt that we would have some good input for the board.«

Through the collaboration in Academic Balance, both candidates have opened their eyes to how rewarding interdisciplinary collaboration can be.

»We want to work to create a framework that makes it easier to work across faculties. Today there is an enormous amount of administrative hassle. If, for example, a student was to study his degree across faculties, there would be major problems with where he should be enrolled, who should be remunerated and so on,« says Christian Kapel.

Louise Kruse Jensen adds:

»It is often in interdisciplinary collaborations that new ideas arise, and you are asked questions you had not considered at all. It is important that in academia we do not only surround us with people who speak the same language as ourselves,« she says.

Some people may associate this with Roskilde University, which offers interdisciplinary programmes. However, that is not where the inspiration arose, stresses Christian Kapel.

»It’s really quite simple. We have experienced firsthand how rewarding it can be to get input from other professions. I have had fantastic conversations with a professor of philosophy who has made me think about how humanity came to be, or why we have grouped ourselves as we have,« he says and then continues:

»With that input, I could create a connection to my own field of research and consider whether, for example, it had to do with how particular diseases arose.«

Task slippage

The interdisciplinary cooperation often encounters administrative barriers, according to the two leading candidates. Right now, the University of Copenhagen is in the middle of a comprehensive administrative reform that will save the University of Copenhagen 300 million kroner annually, and where the main aim is precisely to create greater cohesion in the administration.

»We have gradually become accustomed to being ready for change at the universities. Sometimes the changes have been good, other times bad. But with this administration reform, I hope that the students will have the opportunity to choose from a wider catalogue of subjects,« says Christian Kapel.

Even though the two candidates are generally positive about the upcoming administrative reform, there is still a single caveat:

»It is important that the scientific staff do not suddenly have to solve more administrative tasks. I could well fear that when the administrative staff moves further away,« says Louise Kruse Jensen.

How about involving the teachers?

Academic Balance faces the lists ‘Involve the Researchers!’ and ‘A Sustainable University’. The former fights for researchers to be involved in decisions at all levels at UCPH. The latter wants sustainability to permeate all UCPH activities. How does ‘Academic Balance’ differ from its opponents?

»Firstly, I would like to mention that we have a good dialogue with both lists, and in many areas we agree,« says Christian Kapel.

»’A Sustainable University’ has some super exciting things going on, but for us, sustainability is perhaps closer to something that should permeate all activities. Sustainability encompasses everything, and therefore we must incorporate it into the work of the board,« he says.

And even though sustainability is implicit in all important matters at Academic Balance, they believe that it should appear as an independent strategic goal in the UCPH 2030 action plan.

»Sustainability must be at the heart of everything we do, but we must not take it for granted. Therefore, I think that it should of course be an independent point in UCPH strategy,« says Louise Kruse Jensen.

As for ‘Involve the Researchers!’ Christian Kapel has a question that should answer the difference between them and Academic Balance:

»Why isn’t it called ‘Involve the Teachers?’ Most of us are both. I think it can become a bit elitist that stress what benefits research, rather than focusing on initiatives that benefit both research and teaching,« he says.

The carpenter became an academic

For the past several years, Christian Kapel has worked with intestinal bacteria in animals and humans as a dedicated academic. But it was not always so.

»I actually started as a trained carpenter. And even though I don’t work with it professionally anymore, it’s still a hobby for me to use my hands. I ski, cut down trees, and when I can, I jump into my 50-year-old boat and sail out on the Øresund,« he says.

In addition to her research and teaching in experimental pathology and veterinary medicine, Louise Kruse Jensen does not have much time for either skiing or botanizing in the forest.

»I have young children, so most of my time is spent with their leisure activities. I drive to ballet, football, cook – and you get the point,« laughs Louise Kruse Jensen.

»But when I have time, I like to read. Often biographies of all sorts of different researchers. As I said: It’s always exciting to learn more about areas of expertise that are far from my own.«

You can vote during the election period from 20 to 24 November.