University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


New book by professor slams Danish universities

Three volume documentary novel by Linda Maria Koldau lampoons Aarhus and other universities for systematic repression of expertise, vacuous language use and abuse of management ideology. But is is not about revenge, or her bearing a grudge, she explains to the University Post

The storm surrounding former Aarhus University music professor Linda Maria Koldau is not going away.

Linda Maria Koldau’s outspoken criticism of Danish universities’ management culture shook Aarhus University in 2011 and 2012, and set off a wider debate on the value of the Danish humanities.

Now, after leaving Aarhus, she has published the first volume of a three-volume book, where she fires broadside after broadside at the Danish university system, which she says is racked by the ideology of ‘New Public Management’.

Review of the book here: Review: Danish academia – an ideology like communism

Something terribly wrong

In the book her former workplace Aarhus University is politely given a fictitious name, Jante University, just like former colleagues and bosses are given pseudonyms with the same initials as their real names. The name Jante University is a reference to the fictional idea of the Law of Jante, the idea that Scandinavians negatively portray and criticize individual success and achievement. She herself takes on the pseudonym of Liana in the book.

Her new book is halfway between two genres, Linda Maria Koldau explains to the University Post. It is a work of reference and it is a documentary novel.

“The book is directed to a larger audience than just people who want to know a scandal story about a certain university. Its aim is to show that there is something terribly wrong in the educational system that has serious consequences for the entire state and its people,” she says.

New Public Management

The ‘something’ that is wrong with Danish universities is the philosophy of New Public Management.

“I had started to read public management literature, and came across an article by Chris Lorenz. I suddenly realized that Danish universities were a perfect realization of the theory,” she says.

New Public Management-theories hold that market-oriented management of the public sector will lead to greater cost-efficiency for governments, without having negative side-effects on other objectives and considerations.

Perfect realization of the theory

But New Public Management-inspired reforms have in practice combined free market rhetoric with more intensive managerial control practices, argues Chris Lorenz. This includes supervision and regulation of the public sector through continuous audits and inspections, stifling high quality teaching and research.

Linda Maria Koldau claims in her book to show how Danish universities are an example of what can happen if New Public Management philosophy is allowed to run amok, even going so far as to compare it to the ideology of state communism, including their systematic repression of expertise and criticism, and vacuous language use, in line with what other critics have called ’bullshit-culture’.

“Danish universities are the perfect realization of the theory of New Public Management. But there should be no university run by New Public Management concepts,” she says.

Not just a ‘personnel case’

In the book, Linda Maria Koldau interweaves her story at Aarhus University with theoretical analysis. Everything she says happened, did, she says, with only names changed to protect people.

Some will say that you are the wrong person to write this criticism, as you can no longer be objective having been the centre of this conflict. What would you say to them?

“I was asked: Why don’t you separate your personal story from the overall analysis. But the thing is, my personal analysis cannot be separated from the overall analysis,” she says.

In her book, she foresees a continuation of the reaction from her former university, Aarhus: Her ‘case’ is a ‘personnel case’. Her criticism, and the ensuing public debate, is thereby not taken seriously.

Book is for politicians

According to Linda Maria Koldau, the book should not be seen as an act of revenge. Neither has she conceived her readers to be former colleagues or university managers.

“If it were revenge, I would have gone exactly after specific people. I have been careful to soberly relate my experiences, and the problems that I have experienced.”

Her writing started off as a personal narrative to help process her experience, she says. In her book she describes how she, on advice, archived all documentation as soon as things started going awry. To the University Post she adds that her subsequent write-up in the book ‘Jante Universitet’ came later.

“It started off as a way of dealing with my story, but as the book came to focus on how this system is devastating the universities, it has turned into something much bigger. And the book has in itself been a learning process.”

“The book is for politicians, and for people who have the power to change education,” she says.

Koldau: Not just a scandal

The book is being published by a small German publisher, Tredition – in Danish. Linda Maria Koldau says to the University Post that she was turned down by the first Danish publishers that she approached. Not due to the controversy, but due to her choice of genre.

“Publishers did not want to combine a reference book with my story. They wanted to separate the two,” she says. She adds that publisher Tredition have ensured that the work has been reviewed by Danish academic colleagues before publishing.

She hopes that the book will have an impact, she says. And not just as a scandal, she writes in a subsequent e-mail to the University Post.

’Destroy education, destroy society’

”…The book is directed to a larger audience than just people who want to know a scandal story about a certain university. Its aim is to show that there is something terribly wrong in the educational system that has serious consequences for the entire state and its people.”

“Hence the motto I chose for the book: ’A society that destroys its system of education, destroys itself’”.

See the University Post in-depth review of the book: Review: Danish academia – an ideology like communism

Read an excerpt from the book here.

Stay in the know about news and events happening in Copenhagen by signing up for the University Post’s weekly newsletter here.