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Opinion

Towards a democratic university

University Elections 2019 — I am standing for election to the Board of the University of Copenhagen with a firm belief that democratic participation is one of the university's most important – but underused – resources.

Democratic institutions work if we make them work. And they work only when we activate their potential through participation. Left untended, democratic institutions become toothless political instruments or just quietly wither away.

With a firm belief in the potential of democratic participation, I am standing for election to the University of Copenhagen’s board of governance.

I believe the active participation of the faculty members is crucial to the work of the university. Faculty members not only carry out the core function of the university – of teaching and research – on an everyday basis, together with students and the administrative staff they constitute the university. Our everyday work is what makes the university a highly valuable and critical organ of the society: as a center of learning and knowledge production that a wide range of societal stakeholders make use of.

Yet the academic staff, the backbone of the university, the ones who possess critical insights into the everyday operation of research and teaching, do not always get to participate in strategic decision-making processes.

Democratic fora at the university have progressively been eliminated

Democratic fora at the university have progressively been eliminated. Most recently, the “Institutråd” was dissolved in 2017 with nothing put in its place. This has only strengthened the top-down governance of the university.

This tendency needs to be challenged especially since it is at odds with the principle of participatory democracy, an often under-utilized and overlooked principle, enshrined in the Danish University Law. It states, »the governing board will ensure that there is participation and inclusion of the staff and students in strategic decisions«. The directive is clear but its implementation has not always been optimal (for example, see this report).

I will strive to activate this principle at all levels and especially at the department level where the work of teaching and research is performed. The governing board is not only best equipped to address this challenge but also obliged to ensure that the staff and students are part of decision making processes. This goal can only be achieved if the academic staff is not seen as hindrance to governance, but a valuable and under-appreciated resource.

Researchers and teachers are at the heart of this university. Together with students and the administrative staff, they keep the operation of the university running everyday. If the work of the university is to be sustained, we need to bring back attention to the work conditions of researchers and teachers: the frontline of the university.

This is what I will work for on the Board

Academic freedom
We must have full freedom to conduct their teaching and research. Excessive top-down control is not only non-conducive but also outright corrosive to good teaching and research environment. This also means research and teaching must be prioritized instead of administrative work.

Who am I?

I am Associate Professor of Modern South Asian Studies at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, Faculty of Humanities. I work across the disciplines of history, anthropology, and international politics and specialize in the histories of global transformations in the 20-21st C.. Born and educated primarily in Delhi, I have made Copenhagen my home the past many years.

A fair budget
At a time when never-ending cycles of financial cuts have become a routine occurrence, we need to be vigilant and be part of the decision making process. Given our recent experience of drastic cuts from the late-2014 dimensionering onwards, and the threat of the proposed cuts in the forthcoming finanslov, we need to be on board to avoid haphazard decisions. We must ensure that in the proposed budget model, resources are distributed in a fair and transparent manner so that the so-called “dry” faculties do not dry-up even more, or that precious funds are not allocated to whimsical projects.

Gender equality
There is a vast gap between the stated progressive ambitions of equality and the actual situation on the ground. Everyone in the management wants to enhance diversity or gender equity, but very few actually appoint women to senior positions. The policy and practice at KU needs a serious overhaul and a critical reconsideration.

Clear career paths
The short term contractual employment or the reduction of full-time faculty position needs to be looked at. The nature of short term contracts means that one’s academic freedom and the potential of democratic participation is always under threat.

This is the idea of a democratic university we need to work towards, an open space that keeps its core tasks of research and teaching in focus. It is a space where control mechanisms are minimal, and dialogue a priority. This is where the function of the public university is fulfilled: as a vital resource for the entire society.

Vote for a democratic university!

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