1165 København K
Tlf: 35 32 28 98 (mon-thurs)
Thanks — Student councillor Alexander Thorvaldsen looks back on the good working relationship he had with departing rector Ralf Hemmingsen
Anyone who has been involved with Student Council and who has met with Ralf Hemmingsen knows that you need to pay attention to the details when he speaks. Naturally soft-spoken, Ralf communicates in a complicated, jargony manner and is a master of insinuation and understatement.
On the few occasions when he uses examples, it is important to bear in mind that no detail is superfluous; when Ralf conjures up an image, it is as if he is inviting the listener to take note of every bit of information it conveys. I like to compare him with a bullion cube, whose flavour is far larger than its diminutive size would lead you to believe. Discussions with Ralf are the same: even a short conversation can covey an enormous amount of important information.
During my time as chair of the Student Council, we always agreed ahead of time who would be responsible for taking notes when we met with Ralf and his pro-rectors. We called this ‘Ralf duty’, and the person who had it was responsible for transcribing everything he said, verbatim. Anything less and we couldn’t be certain we weren’t missing any details.
When Ralf conjures up an image, it is as if he is inviting the listener to take note of every bit of information it conveys. I like to compare him with a bullion cube, whose flavour is far larger than its diminutive size would lead you to believe
Most of us have probably experienced the same thing when Ralf holds his annual address to the university: few can say so much using so few words. Sometimes, he conjures up an image but leaves it up to the listener to do the hard work of figuring out the significance. During his address held at the height of heated discussions with Sofie Carsen Nielsen, the higher-education minister at the time, over resizing study programmes, he explained to us how Hitler and Stalin had walked in the same park in Austria.
When the newly elected government put an end to years of continually increasing investments in higher education and research two years ago, Ralf talked to us about The Little Prince, the French children’s book whose title character visits planets populated by adults who fixate on things like time and the bottom line, but who have forgotten all about culture and humanity. This sort of discreet criticism has always been one of Ralf’s trademarks.
Few of today’s students are aware that when Ralf become rector, the university was a thoroughly democratic institution. Students accounted for half of the community; faculty and staff the other.
It’s always been obvious that Ralf was forged by this culture. His opinion has always been clear: the people who make up the university are the cornerstone of its development, its sense of community and the cool projects it is pursuing. He knows that it is in the university’s best interest if students organise themselves and are enthusiastic about their studies – both inside the classroom and out. He needs people he can negotiate with, and people who are willing to fight on his side when the changing political winds blow in trends like micro-management or austerity.
I hope future rectors will pass on a university that continues to embrace this spirit and sense of open-mindedness
Only once in his 11 years as rector has Ralf been the object of widespread student discontent. In 2013, a crowd of 9,000 students gathered outside his office on Frue Plads. Earlier in the day, they had organised a blockade and prevented courses from being held. Later, they marched in from KUA and from Panum to gather on Frue Plads to express their dissatisfaction that the university had added its own initiatives to the government’s ‘study-progress’ reform. Communication between the student body and the administration broke down. The ensuing protests were among the biggest anyone could remember.
How did Ralf respond? The evening before the protests broke out, he dropped all the initiatives the university had proposed. When the students showed up, he offered them coffee and pastry and agreed to support their criticism of their reform and of Morten Østergaard, the higher education minister at the time.
The result was typically Ralf. A compromise was struck and a 12-person committee made up of students and administrators was set up to negotiate their way to a solution both sides could live with. At other universities, the administration would simply have told students that changes were going to be made. Ralf’s recognition that students have something to contribute has always been a valued aspect of his leadership.
I hope future rectors will pass on a university that continues to embrace this spirit and sense of open-mindedness, and that they continue to understand that an involved student body is the best ally they have in this effort.