University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Editorial: The future of the University Post is blowing in the wind

Freedom of the press — Freedom of speech among staff and students is at risk if the proposed reform to the administration is approved. It is a spineless management that tries to sneak the future of the University Post into an appendix, and that disguises its strangulation of the medium as a budget cut.

The large reform of the administration at the University of Copenhagen is taking shape. On 18 April, management shared its proposal for the future administration with the entire university, and you can read here about what the reform delivers, and what it sacrifices, in the name of efficiency. Broadly speaking, it is a centralisation into a joint ‘university administration’, that is to provide staff and students with better service and DKK 300 million in annual savings.

At the University Post, we have tried to keep track of what the reform will mean for the university’s employees. When we, two weeks ago, published an article that for the first time quantified how many technical-administrative positions will be shed (380), one attentive reader noted in a Facebook comment that the University Post is also mentioned under communications (appendix 4, page 35) of the reform proposal (requires login to KUnet).

It hit me like a fist on my screen spectacles. Towards the end of the passage it states: »There is also a small saving associated with insourcing translation and distribution tasks, as well as the transition of the University Post to the common digital platform (KUnet) of UCPH and the end of the media’s newspaper distribution«.

While the financial savings associated with the proposal are minimal, the political consequence will be enormous.

I can tell you that the savings will be minute. The University Post’s public domain, the page, costs in the region of DKK 50,000 a year to operate. Twice a year, we publish a printed magazine at the start of the semester, which is distributed across the four campuses. The total cost per magazine issue is approximately DKK 100,000, distribution included.

While the financial savings associated with the proposal are minimal, the political consequence will be enormous.

For 50 years, employees and students at the University of Copenhagen have had a free press, independent of management. The news medium has adapted to changing times, trends and platforms. But it has, in accordance with Humboldtian principles, kept a vigilant watch over the autonomous research university, the research-based education, and the university’s working and study environment ever since the last days of the student movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

With the Danish University Act of 2003, students and employees lost their democratic influence over their own universities, including the right to choose their own managers. On the university boards that were introduced, staff and students are outnumbered by external members. But in the columns of the University Post they were still able to question management’s actions and express criticism. Successive editors have considered it a noble task to refine the academic debate. And the public interest in the internal debates and feuds at the university have increased in step with the political interest in the university’s inner life.

If is embedded in the university’s intranet, the public can no longer read it. The University of Copenhagen is like a culture-bearing keg of gunpowder for the surrounding society. With no public access, the significant debates over values that arise at campus will be suffocated. This also means that the medium’s function as a devoted, yet critical, corrective element at the university will disappear.

The University Post’s independence is formally enshrined. The editorial team has always had journalistic freedom, and an arm’s length principle relationship to management and the communications department that has grown up around it. It would not just be a radical change to put the medium under the university’s communications area, it would also break with the current terms of reference, which state that »the university newspaper is organisationally placed in Group Finances,« [understood as not in Group Communication]. The medium’s beginnings in 1973 was accompanied by a charter, last updated in 2013, confirming that the Editor reports to a committee, the ‘Bladudvalg’, which acts as a board for the medium. This Bladudvalget board consists of the core users – academic staff, technical-administrative staff, and students, three of each. And in the charter it explicitly state that the board is ultimately responsible for the management of the medium’s operations, for determining the overall editorial principles, and for the medium’s publishing strategy.

The Bladudvalget board has been ignored in the question of what consequences the reform should have for the University Post. Upon my request, Rector Henrik C. Wegener has informed me that the specific proposal has been authored by the design group that is responsible for finding cuts in the communications area. In an email on 3 May, he stresses that the wording is a proposal, not a finished solution. The same response was given to the staff representatives who raised the issue when the overall reform proposal was debated in the staff-management co-ordinating HSU committee hearing on 25 April. But the proposal has not been taken off the table.

Now the rumours about the University Post’s upcoming »closure« have started to swirl around social media. I have journalists from outside the university on the phone who want to know what exactly is going on. I do not have any answers for them. Neither do I have answers for my staff, since nothing has been decided. I can only say that our board, the Bladudvalget, has not been consulted. And I might add that both the University Post staff and the Bladudvalget board are prepared to contribute to the overall savings targets.

But if someone were to ask me: What do I think about the University of Copenhagen management trying to sneak through a closure of its free press in an appendix to an administration reform? A reform that is ostensibly to give students and employees a better service experience? Then I would answer: That would certainly be spineless. And then I would quote Rector Thor A. Bak, who launched the free university newspaper in 1973 with the words: »Welcome the editor. And let her have insight into everything that is going on, and to see all the papers that are deemed to be of the least interest. The editor is – more than anyone else – the one person who can dispel that rumour that the university is concealing its own weaknesses, hushing up scandals, and giving cover to its own people.«