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Comment: Votes that count

All of the democratically-elected bodies, not just the Board, are important, argues Rector of the University of Copenhagen Ralf Hemmingsen in this featured comment

‘Jensen Is Elected!’

The title of a drawing in the comic book ‘Blæksprutten’ from 1903. In it, the cartoonist Alfred Schmidt jokes about the Social Democrat F.J. Borgbjerg, when he announced from the balcony of the Copenhagen City Hall that the first Social Democratic mayor had been elected.

Today, there are plenty of other channels of information, including the University Post. And we do not have a balcony. But if we did, Prorector and I would gladly stand there and shout ‘congratulations’ on the occasion of the University elections that just took place.

In places, turnout was high

Congratulations are in order – not just for the elected, but for the entire University of Copenhagen. Because members of study boards, academic councils, the Board etc. contribute to the daily work at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH), and they help us become an even better university. In short, the votes really matter.

And the tasks range from development of new curricula in the study boards, granting academic degrees in the academic councils, and the Board’s adoption of the University’s budget.

In several places, the voting turnout was quite high. And for the Board, we have seen a small increase in voters at the last two elections. But even with this development, we hope for a bigger turnout in the future, because when we barely reach 15 per cent of the students for the Board election, there is definitely room for improvement.

Plenty to do

In the last years, we have done more to raise awareness about the University election with large banners on campus, a new KUnet site and more communication in English to our many international colleagues and students.

This effort continues, and we trust that both students and staff support it by voting, by appreciating colleagues and fellow students who work hard in boards, councils and committees – or by running for elections yourselves. And it would be great, if we had contested elections in more instances, so that the winner would not be given beforehand.

There is plenty to do. The 2016 Strategy for the University of Copenhagen points to tasks that are relevant to work with at all levels. We must improve education and strengthen internal and external collaboration. Such work is not only carried out by study boards, council and committees – but certainly also by them.

Everybody should vote

Now and then, it is said that student and staff involvement is not quite as good as before the Danish university reform of 2003-2004. Critics for example point to the fact that Rector and Deans are no longer elected and that there is an external majority on the Board. But in the everyday work, study boards make concrete decisions, and the Board has a deciding influence.

But are the other elected bodies then as superficial as the people’s assemblies in imperial Rome? No. In academic councils, PhD Committees and the new institute councils – that are primarily advisory – the influence is potentially bigger than people might think. First of all, the bodies are composed of representatives with knowledge about the respective areas and therefore are worth listening to. And second, there is no limit to what can be on the agenda, as long as it is university-related.

In addition, no leader can create anything positive, if she is consistently opposed by her academic or institute council on the important, principal questions. Prorector and I look forward to the election of members to the department councils in March, and encourage everybody to vote and – if you are up for it – to run for election, whether your name is Jensen, Johnson or Singh.

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