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Op-ed: Department head, Claus Beier: the media’s portrayal of the firing case is one-sided, simplistic and far from the truth.
A professor at the Department of Geology and Natural Resource Management (IGN) at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) has been dismissed. The case concerning Hans Thybo, which has been described here in detail by the University Post, is a confidential staff case under which UCPH, the faculty and IGN are bound by silence.
Therefore, we have not been able to come forward with information to shed light on the case, nor has the debate been grounded in the entire facts, reflected in the reporting of several media, which has lead to declarations of support from Danish and international researchers as well as students.
Certainly, the debate draws on varied information, but it is also information which is inherently one-sided because UCPH does not have the opportunity to contribute. The debate therefore does not reflect the truth or the complete picture.
On the contrary, the case is represented in the media in a highly simplified manner, far from the truth and the long and careful considerations, conversations and discussions with different levels of management and HR which occurred prior to a long, detailed and difficult process.
“Certainly, the debate draws on varied information, but it is also information which is inherently one-sided “
The debate published in the University Post and Universitetsavisen could give the impression that UCPH and IGN have a new staff policy whereby employees are now hunted down, and can be fired for trivialities and issues without fair and serious consideration. This is of course, not the case.
Employees at IGN have the same job security they have always enjoyed, also in situations where they disagree with the management. IGN is an institute with close to 500 employees who represent all possible disciplines, roles, educations, cultures, ages, ethnicities, and so forth.
We are proud of this diversity, and disputes unfold in all corners of the organisation every single day. It is mostly unproblematic, it enriches us, and we have longstanding, considerable experience with handling these disputes and conflicts through dialogue and cooperation.
Of course, sometimes conflicts emerge which require more serious measures such as meditation or decided disciplinary action. In such an event, this is addressed by formal processes and with the involvement of multiple parties and a second opinion, while the employee in question is granted a process which offers the opportunity to make the necessary changes.
As the debate would have it, research freedom and the freedom of professors is also under pressure. NO, it is not. Both are unchanged by the pending case. BUT, IGN is also a workplace. A workplace with respect between colleagues, and which holds respect and responsibility for the young researchers and their career plans and responsibility for professional and supervisor project leadership, just to name some of the various considerations and obligations.
I am the head of department for the entire IGN. That naturally entails supporting the development opportunities of professors, but there are many other talented employees who must also be supported. Here, like all other employees at a workplace, the professors are subject to a number of standard collegiate and professional limitations and responsibilities.
These limitations do not simply concern refraining from sexual harassment and theft, and they are not an attack on academic freedom, freedom of speech or professional mobility.
As stated, the debate is shaped by one-sided information and the fact that management cannot come forward with further information. Moreover, there are many feelings involved, because many have been affected directly and indirectly by the decision to dismiss Hans Thybo.
” We have now had a dialogue with the involved students and resolved the misunderstandings”
This includes students who will now need a new professor, even though they are innocent in this situation. In an article in Universitetsavisen, it reads as if we at IGN have not offered to find solutions in a case of two Masters students who are writing their final thesis. It suggests that the dismissal will now actually prevent the two students from completing their studies because Thybo was their supervisor, and because they lost access to data which he holds the rights to.
I completely understand that for a student writing their masters thesis, there is a lot of pressure and uncertainty which comes with the loss of their supervisor, but the actual situation has unfortunately not been presented accurately. Thybo was NOT the main supervisor for the two students, and the main supervisor WAS concretely asked about potential consequences of the dismissal shortly after it took effect and that main supervisor responded that everything was Ok.
Moreover, the access to data has been resolved with a little difficulty. We therefore have not had a reason to suspect that there was an unresolved problem. We have now had a dialogue with the involved students and resolved the misunderstandings. I recognize and apologise of course the extra difficulty and frustration which the students and others involved will now undeservedly have to deal with due to the dismissal, and we continue to work with overcoming these drawbacks in collaboration with those involved.