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Criticism of Dean — An open declaration of no-confidence. This is how Heiko Henkel describes a decision by the Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences to make himself acting head of the Department of Anthropology. Heiko Henkel criticises the fact that the Dean was not able to appoint an acting head from the department's own employees, and asks whether anthropology as an independent degree programme is at risk.
The Department of Anthropology has been the paragon of virtue at the Faculty of Social Sciences: The best research evaluations, the highest sum total of research funding per academic, happy and successful students. The students do however have a lower employment rate than in economics, political science and psychology.
In 2021, the Danish government’s relocation reform package was announced and the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) was hit by cuts. The Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen decided to use the round of cuts to specifically target the Department of Anthropology. The intake of students was cut by one third and two academic staff members were fired. Behind closed doors, the Dean had previously stated that he did not think that there was a need for an independent Department of Anthropology because he considered anthropology to be a kind of sub-field of sociology. It suited him, in other words, to spare the other courses at the Faculty and to place the burden of the cuts on Anthropology. There were no protests from Anthropology. The head of department and his managing team supported the Dean and carried out the drastic cuts without batting an eyelid.
This complicity does not appear to have saved the management or the department. Department head Bjarke Oxlund recenly announced that he will resign after only three years on the job. He has received a new job in the faculty administration. At the same time, the Dean has placed the Department of Anthropology under administration and made himself head of department until a new head of department was appointed ‘within a year’.
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The Dean’s takeover of the department was announced at a staff crisis meeting recently, and the staff were only informed about the dramatic intervention on the day itself. And the Dean’s diagnosis of the state of the department was, according to the employees present, not less alarming than the intervention itself. The department’s challenges were so serious that none other than the Dean himself could lead it in the coming period, he stated. For the same reason, he had no confidence that any of the department’s professors or associate professors could temporarily hold the position until a new head of department was appointed. Not even any of the three functioning deputy heads of department.
The Dean said that there were to be quite dramatic changes to the Department of Anthropology. Only the Dean himself – in his dual role as head of department – can carry them out.
This is an overt declaration of no-confidence in the department management team and the entire department’s group of academic staff. When the Dean does not think that the department has the skills to meet future challenges, then it is obvious that the actual existence of anthropology as an independent subject and programme at UCPH is now in actual danger.
But what are the problems at Anthropology that are so gigantic that only the Dean can solve them?
The military historian Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen is probably capable of many things – but can he be the department head at Anthropology next to being Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences? When he himself considers it to be a time of dramatic crisis at the Department? What are the Dean’s radical plans for research and teaching at the Department of Anthropology? And how does the Dean plan to rebuild the Department of Anthropology after he publicly humiliates even his own most loyal employees?
It raises serious questions about the academic integrity of UCPH as a whole when the Dean feels authorized to disregard the university’s academic foundation. And this leads directly to the question of whether the Dean has the support of the Rector’s office. Or has he gone rogue?
The questions do not stop there however. Since his appointment, the Dean has set up what a colleague who works closely with him calls ‘a regime of terror’. With personal attacks, threats behind closed doors and public humiliations, the Dean has created an atmosphere of anxiety and silence at the faculty (it is not surprising that 41 per cent of the faculty’s staff do not trust the Dean, as the University Post wrote recently). Rounds of cutbacks have given the Dean the cover to dismiss employees without justification. And the warnings of future rounds of cuts are formulated as a clear warning that all criticism will be seen as grounds for dismissal. Is this the new ‘experimenting university’ that Vedby Rasmussen has proclaimed?
There may be good reasons why the Danish University Act (and UCPH’s own practice) gives deans almost absolute power at the faculties.
But where is the limit if a dean just goes completely nuts?
READ ALSO: Dean Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen’s response