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Humanities to merge - students and staff want answers

Merger — Two departments are to merge at the Faculty of Humanities. There will be cuts to payroll. Students and staff say they are worried.

An — unnamed so far — large department is to emerge this autumn at the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Copenhagen.

The merged department is to consist of the Department of Information Studies (INF) and the Department of Media, Cognition and Communication (MEF).

According to the faculty’s dean Jesper Kallestrup, who has posted a message on the University of Copenhagen’s intranet, it will be “a robust and broad-based department, which will deal with significant societal problems, and which will be well equipped to take on research across traditional disciplines and to improve joint programmes.”

The merger is to take place during a period of time where the Faculty of Humanities is carrying out cuts, primarily as a result of the Danish parliament in 2014 adopted fewer students admitted to several programmes with higher unemployment . The Faculty of Humanities is to cut DKK 25 million in salary costs by 2020 in total, and the merger is to provide a portion of the money.

But staff and students do not yet know how it is going to happen.

Cuts will come in one go

“It is uncertain what the merger will mean for the students,” says Andreas Jørgensen, who studies communications and IT on his second semester. He is also active in student politics and is a member of the study board at MEF.

According to Andreas Jørgensen, management has not stated what the merger will mean. Neither have they said whether it is primarily academic or financial considerations that justify it:

“We’ve received short messages from management, and at a meeting with the two heads of department we asked for the academic justifications for the merger,” he says.

“There is some common ground between my field of communication and IT and what they do at the Department of Information Studies, but we have received answers that are imprecise. Have these responses just been clichés? I certainly don’t think that the academic justifications for the merger appear to have much weight.”

But they do, according to Jens-Erik Mai, who is department head at the Department of Information Studies, and who from September 2019 is to head the entire, merged department in its entirety.

I’m looking forward to bringing the various academic professional skills together, and I think it will be of great benefit to the students

Head of Department Jens-Erik Mai

“It is first and foremost a merger that is justified academically, because the two departments have a lot of things in common, such as research into digital culture, information technology, children’s culture, genre studies, digital literacy and digital control. There is already good cooperation, so it’s all about bringing the research closer together,” says Jens-Erik Mai.

“I’m looking forward to bringing the various academic professional skills together, and I think it will be of great benefit to the students.”

“There is also an expectation that we save DKK 25 million by 2020 on the faculty’s payroll. And when we can, among other things, do without a salary for one head of department, then this is also a contribution to that,” he says.

BACKGROUND

The Department of Media, Cognition and Communication is approximately twice as large as the Department of Information Studies, and the merged department will be comparable to the Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics which is the largest at the Faculty of Humanities.

It is not clear yet where the new department is to be located. The Faculty of Humanities has been rebuilt and renewed in recent years. But part of the new buildings have been rented out as a result of the faculty’s cuts, and because of the dwindling student population resulting from politicians cutting back while at the same time expanding the physical buildings and infrastructure.

Maja Horst, who currently heads the Department of Media, Cognition and Communication, is employed on a fixed-term contract which expires in the autumn of 2019, after which she will continue as a professor.

Jens-Erik Mai says that the exact savings plan for the merged department does not yet exist. But a single cost cut will be put into effect this year, rather than a round of cutbacks at the merger followed by a faculty-wide series of cuts immediately afterwards. The plan will be announced to staff representatives when it is available.

“It has not yet been quantified what the different departments and sections need to cut. But when this is clarified, it will be announced in the faculty liaison committee.”

Staff representatives: At least we avoid across-the-board cuts

“As staff representatives we meet both enthusiastic and less enthusiastic reactions, not least related to the match between possible layoffs and the merger,” associate professor Anne Mette Thorhauge (MEF) and Hans Elbeshausen (INF), who are staff representatives for the researchers at the two departments, write in a joint statement to the University Post.

“We see the merger as a sign that management wants to carry out strategic cuts rather than ’across-the-board-cuts’ and we see this as a positive thing. We can also see relevant academic overlaps between departments and what this means in terms of opportunities for research and teaching. However, it remains unclear what specific reorganisations will lead to. And this naturally leads to worries among our colleagues.”

Anne Mette Thorhauge and Hans Elbeshausen also write that it is important that the merger takes place in an open and inclusive manner.

Libraries, cafés and study boards in the crosshairs

“Management has said that the merger will not affect our daily lives as students. But I’m convinced that it will,” says student Andreas Jørgensen. He mentions that it is not clear what will happen with the two departments’ respective student cafés and library branches, not to mention the boards of studies.

It has not been stated whether the students will have fewer representatives and thereby potentially less influence if the two current boards are to be merged.

Management has said that the merger will not affect our daily lives as students, but I’m convinced that it will

Student Andreas Jørgensen

The politically active students have set up a working group to follow the merger, says Andreas Jørgensen:

“But we have not decided whether we will support the merger yet, because we need information. There are students from INF, who have expressed a fear of being consumed by the larger department, and at MEF there are people who see it as yet another degree programme being added to the pick ’n’ mix candy factory, that they know already,” he says.

“It has been said about MEF, that it consists of the study programmes that were left over when they set up the other departments.”

Department head Jens-Erik Mai is in the process of setting up groups, one of them to think up a name for the merged entity:

“All ideas are welcome,” he says. “We are in the process of setting up a number of working groups. These include one that will work specifically on developing the study environment at the merged department. And this group will also look at combining student cafés.”

And according to department head Jens-Erik Mai, MEF is “not more of a pick ‘n’ mix set-up than the other departments at the faculty, which also contain varied professional academic skills.”

A meeting between students and management about the practical consequences of the merger has been agreed for 11th March.

Translated by Mike Young

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