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Student Council Gwen's speech at Commemoration

Here is the text of the speech by Gwen Gruner-Widding of the Student Council at the Commemoration Ceremony Friday

Your Majesty,
Dear minister and Board,
Dear fellow students, dear faculty, dear friends

Me standing here today as the representative of the nearly 40.000 students – domestic as well as internationals – is a product of hard work of a lot of people. The stories of the paintings in this hall is quite a fairytale including clergy, autocratic rulers, students fighting of the Swedes – and professors celebrating the Nordic commonwealth of scholars. But also the unpainted stories shape the pictures of revolt, hard work and student engagement that have led to the tradition of the Student Council giving our annual ceremonial say in the matters of this great university.

Me standing here today – as me – is not a product of Swedes, nor of kings or clergy. But it is, however, quite a tale worth telling. The reason I am here is – of course – my mother. As a young woman my mother grew up in the US in the 60’s. It was a place where the kids from the same village as her, but from the wrong side of the rail tracks, never took piano lessons, never went to summer camp or – most importantly – never went to the same schools as she did. As soon as my mother got the chance – she decided to go to Europe, to observe alternatives to the so called land of the free and to see what it was really like, over there.

After experiencing warm sunsets of Salamanca, the waffles of Brussels and farming in Norwegian fields, she came to Copenhagen. What she found here, she always tells me, she did not believe existed outside fairy tales. The country, my mother encountered upon in the fall of ’71, was a country of social progress, liberty and education for all. A country of spirit.


See, while my mother was considered a brave, yet odd occurrence back in the early 1970s, I amongst my fellow students today find people from around the globe. Mobility programs have given students from varies backgrounds the opportunity of studying abroad, something that was a reserved right back in my mother’s time. Most of us here today speak more than two languages. We have all traveled to other countries. Many os us work and study across borders. And some of us even have our family living across oceans.

All these relations can be summed up into what we call internationalization. And it is a fact. It is reality. All students as well as faculty and staff are a part of it. Therefore, it is time to act. We need to internalize the concepts of internationalization into the very soul of this university. Yes, I know, it is not an easy task, and especially not for a 534 year old university.

It is a matter of maintaining our identity, as my mother loved it when she first time met her fellow students in Denmark. This is what made her stop here, and especially what made her stay here.

It is a matter of having a student centered approach. We need think boarder than what goes on in the classroom. We need to ensure that Copenhagen is a welcoming place to all kinds of students. Copenhagen must become the best student city in the world.

And it is a matter of not focusing on language alone but to make internationalization an integral part of every academic environment in a way that makes sense to every specific discipline in its very own way.
I think most people agree that we should pursue the task of being more international. The question remains, however, not, why we should do it –but how we do it. In my opinion, the question of howcan be answered in two ways:

There is the way of government. The political system already puts a lot of pressure on us to get more international. It’s easy to predict how this way will look. It will be composed of strategic goals pointing in several directions. There will for sure be quantitative measures. There will be milestones without root in reality. And, as usual, there will be no extra funding to finance these air castles.

Or there is the way that works. If following this way, we decide to take a broad debate among scholars and students about internationalization. We ask students of every study, how they think internationalization should work. We include our international staff and students in the debates – and off course we start speaking English, when they are present. Not only to be polite – but because the input, ideas and participation of all is necessary.

The funny part is, however, that we already know how to initiate such a process together. Three years ago we launched a huge process of rehabilitation of the educations of this university. Through surveys, debates and innovation camps we developed both strategy and reorientation of the study programs. It led to new didactical endeavors as well as recognition of the very low amount of lectures. As we all know, the student proposal of ensuring all bachelor students are guaranteed minimum of twelve lessons per week was formally adopted as a result of this process.


Whatever way you take, let me warn you. There are no quick fixes in the process of making this university truly international. We do not only need language skills. We need international skills.

We cannot just make a quick fix by deciding that all master programs should be taught in English. Firstly, studies such as Law, Latin or Danish will lose their core, if taught in English. Secondly, simply google translating existing courses into English is not enough. Thirdly, our teachers are not yet good enough to teach us in English.
We cannot just make a quick fix by focusing on internationalizing a group of students that are found to be talented. This is both when it comes to Danish students, who are sent abroad, as well as internationals, we invite.
Finally, we cannot make a quick fix by relying on internationalization as an extracurricular activity. The decision of internalization should be taken together with respect of unique academic traditions. But no one should miss the opportunity of engaging in the international student and scholar community – in Copenhagen as well as abroad.
We must strive for is a holistic approach to our educations. We must never strive towards quick fixes.


With these words, I would like to direct your attention towards another issue going on right now. I speak of course of the tsunami of new regulations pouring in these days. My abnormal focus on quick fixes is not accidental. Both our minister – but especially our rector and deans – have a sincere, at times even blindfolded belief in that quick fixes will solve all problems. Maximal years of studying and other incitement structures that should make us faster as students but eventually will results in hollowing the quality of our studies.

Once and for all, let me settle that I do not oppose the idea that the travel from freshman to master takes the time, than it is planned to take. But I truly do oppose quick fixes, with the purpose of pumping low quality graduates into the labor market, especially in a time of sky high youth unemployment. Dear minister, you are whipping us through our education, like a cowboy whips his cattle to the slaughterhouse.

Dear rector, dear deans, you act weak and cowardly, when you so hastily deprives the students of their right to leave of absence from their studies, their chance to get a foot in the labor market, a chance to try new innovative ways of immersion. And you are doing this solely in the name of student efficiency.

As the Faculty of Health puts it, in their recent answer to the hearing of this reform – and I quote: “The reform will lead to a lower and less academic level, especially for bachelor students.” During the last weeks, I have spoken with quite a few of you who are present here today. You express your worries, your disregards and your helplessness, when we talk. You are true academic. You know the importance of time for trial and error, both from your own research, and from your own lives, I am sure. Dear faculty and staff do not deprive the coming generation of students of this. Do not let yourselves be turned into cowboys whipping cattle.


I’ve spoken of internationalization and educational quality. Even though many of you speak more than two languages, I bet most of you do not understand the phrase on the front of this podium. It’s ancient Greek and it says: En pneumati kai alētheia, in spirit and truth.

I will let ‘in spirit and truth’ be my final words of today. Let us not, in the desire for effectiveness, forget the importance of spirit in the formative role of education. And let us never, in the name of incentives, neglect the search of truth and forget the importance of critical thought.

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