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Director after staff criticism: »We do not always agree, but it is a constructive dialogue«

Staff co-determination — Management will present further details prior to the Board meeting on the reform of the University of Copenhagen administration. But staff representatives want a plan for the allocation of tasks: This will not be ready until after the Board has approved the overall reform.

Staff representatives say they were sidelined at the meeting in the staff-management co-ordinating HSU committee on 25 April where management’s proposals for the upcoming administration reform were discussed. But University Director Søren Munk Skydsgaard left the meeting feeling that there had been a good, direct, and honest dialogue.

He says this in a longer interview with the University Post.

»We have a good working relationship, and I think we have actually had that at all the HSU meetings where we have discussed the reform of the administration. We don’t always agree on everything, but it’s a constructive dialogue. And it helps us make our arguments stronger,« says Søren Munk Skydsgaard.

Does this also mean that you will take the concerns raised by the staff representatives to heart?

»It does. It is clear that the members of the HSU care about our university and are good at bringing the concerns they get from their colleagues to the table. And we listen to that a lot.«

Clearly we fundamentally believe in the proposal we have put forward. And we continue to do so after the first HSU discussion.

University Director Søren Skydsgaard

One of the participants at the HSU meeting was Henriette Lerche, who is staff representative for the university’s laboratory technicians. She left the meeting with the feeling that management perceived the questions and concerns of staff representatives as naïve and irritating.

How does this impression square off with constructive dialogue, Søren Skydsgaard?

»It’s a real shame that Henriette feels this way. This was certainly not the intention. I find the questions to be good questions. And I find the concerns and perspectives coming from the staff representatives relevant, and a help in strengthening the final proposal. And I regret if we ended up giving a different impression,« says the university director.

READ ALSO: Staff reps say they have been sidelined by UCPH management

Lack of details

The staff representatives that the University Post have spoken to, criticize the preliminary proposal, saying it lacks essential details about the distribution of tasks in the future university administration.

Søren Skydsgaard, is it the management view that the proposal, as it currently stands, is sufficiently detailed about what tasks should be where?

There is no intention of having to curtail anyone’s freedom of expression or in any way restrict the debate

University Director Søren Skydsgaard

»It’s a Board matter, so it’s written for the Board. And when we write a decision-making proposal for the Board, we need to reach the level of detail that we believe is the right one in terms of the type of decision that the Board has to make. There will be additional material for the HSU that will be up and above that which will be presented to the Board. So I can understand people thinking: Is it this what we will get before the reorganisation, or what? And that is why we also said at the meeting that more material will be submitted to the HSU when it comes to specific resizing and organisation, and thereby also how the tasks are to be carried out specifically,« says the university director and continues:

»This is the matter for the Board, and the discussion on the more concrete organisation will come later.«

When is this going to happen?

»I expect that before the summer recess we will have a discussion that will take a closer look at the actual organisation.«

So it will be after the Board meeting on 19 June?

»Yes, I don’t think we’ll be ready with it before the Board meeting. It’s also about the fact that this case is not coming before the Board. Because it is at a completely different level of detail than the cases that we submit to the Board.«

But what the staff representatives criticize is precisely that they lack a lot of detail. They do not feel that they can have a dialogue at the HSU on an informed basis, because they simply lack the necessary background knowledge. They will not get it until the decision has been taken by the Board?

»Yes, they will. Because we agreed that at a meeting soon we would forward a stack of background material that has been the basis for the proposal that the steering committee has decided to present. Here you will get the opportunity to read more about what the background has been for the proposal that is forthcoming.

There will also be things where we have listened, but do not agree

University Director Søren Skydsgaard

So this material will be available at the coming HSU meetings. But the material about which tasks will be placed where will only be available after the Board meeting?

»What we will soon present is what has come in from the different design teams that is the basis of our own draft. The papers with the proposal for the organization will be submitted before the summer holidays, but after the Board meeting. This case is just not ready yet.«

But how can the Board take a decision on this administration reform when something like this is not ready?

»It is a major, principled, strategic decision to carry out the reorganisation of the administration that we are proposing. And the strategic decision must be based on a relatively thorough description of the basic elements, division of roles, and the tasks that we intend the university administration to deal with. In other words, how are the guiding principles, that the Board wants, to be turned into reality?«

»And it is management’s task, with the involvement of HSU, to flesh out the details of this organization. Specific, organisational, decisions are often taken at UCPH which are not Board matters — but management matters that include the involvement of HSU. At the strategic level at which the Board operates, a certain level of detail is needed. And for the organization in general, there is a need for a greater level of detail.«

This still not does address the fact that the staff representatives would like to see more details before the Board has to approve it, so that it can be taken up at HSU meetings beforehand?

»At the next HSU meeting, we will have the opportunity to have quite detailed discussions on the design groups’ proposals, also for organisational issues. But the specific proposal will come later,« says the university director.

READ ALSO: Give us back the honest dialogue

How much can be changed?

The criticism from the staff representatives in the HSU is also that they do not feel heard. And that management does not take note of the concerns raised at the meetings.

But Søren Munk Skydsgaard assures them that management does listen to the input from the staff representatives.

»There are discussions and exchanges in the HSU. And then we take some of these things further and adjust the case based on some of these things. So we are listening. And this will also be seen in an updated version of the draft that goes to the Board for approval. But there will also be things where we have listened, but do not agree,« he says.

Skydsgaard guarantees that the revised version of the case that will be presented to the Board will be ready for the HSU meeting on 30 May. But he also stresses that there may also be a revision after this meeting.

»I would think that the case as it stands is very close to being final. But if new things come up on 30 May, we can adjust it again. This is the point of the HSU involvement.«

We do not always agree on everything, but it is a constructive dialogue

University Director Søren Skydsgaard

But what is your assessment of how many, and how big, the changes are, that will be made in the proposal before the Board sees it?

»I think this is hard to say. Because it depends on the discussions that come up,« he says.

»But we clearly fundamentally believe in the proposal we have put forward. And we continue to do this after the first HSU discussion. But there may well be some changes.«

Søren Skydsgaard mentions a risk assessment on whether it will be possible to deliver the administration that is demanded by both academic staff and students if the reform is implemented. The staff representatives have asked for this risk assessment, and management has promised to look into it.

At the same time, management has complied with a request from staff that the revised version of the case will be in a more inclusive language, so that the content is easier to read and understand.

When will the text change to the final wording that the Board will discuss on 19 June?

»It will happen, in principle, right up until the point where we send it to the Board. And I don’t know if this is one week beforehand. But in principle you can adjust the text until then.«

Does this mean that, after the HSU meeting on 30 May, changes may take place which the staff representatives will then not have the opportunity to object to?

»We have the discussion. And if this leads to some things that we would like to adjust in the case, it would be a shame to tell the HSU that it cannot be done after 30 May.«

If the staff representatives believe that the changes in the proposal for the Board after 30 May are so big that they need further discussion, is this still possible?

»The process is structured in a way that there are two meetings. And the draft we have made is the path we propose. But if you see a fundamental change in the proposal, then in this situation there might be a need to look at it again.«

Future of the University Post discussed

The future of the University Post has also come up for discussion as part of the administration reform.

The submitted proposal for the administration reform mentions in appendix number four a small saving by closing down the public domain of the University Post, and moving its domain behind the firewalled, non-public UCPH intranet. At the same time, UCPH management wants to cut the semi-annual physical publication of the Danish-language ‘Uniavisen’ magazine.

These proposals have been criticised by Ingrid Kryhlmand, staff representative and vice-chair of the HSU. According to her, it is a restriction of employees’ freedom of speech.

But the proposals are certainly not due to an ulterior motive by management, according to the university director. He also stresses that this is only a proposal.

»There is no intention of having to curtail anyone’s freedom of expression or in any way restrict the debate That is not the purpose of it at all. We look at all administrative tasks, including communication, and the budgets allocated to University Post are part of the costs reductions. It is therefore possible to reduce costs in the same way as there are for all other budgets. And this is a proposal for this. But there will also be a dialogue about this. As we also said in the HSU, it does not necessarily need to end up in exactly the way that it states here«.