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Dismissal case — The dismissal of the geologist Hans Thybo has led to a feeling of insecurity among researchers at the University of Copenhagen. Because if it is so easy to get rid of an unwanted employee, then they could be next in line.
For the University of Copenhagen management, the saga over the dismissal of the internationally renowned professor of geology Hans Thybo is over.
The university and Thybo settled, which means that he is given six months’ pay as compensation for unfair dismissal.
Management has no further comments on the case. But it is all not over yet, according to several researchers and their union representatives at UCPH. They talk of how the sacking has led to apprehension and insecurity.
The case is about much more than a difficult researcher that management decided to get rid of: Get rid of, officially, because he had used his private e-mail account for work purposes and encouraged a postdoc to be critical of management in a workplace assessment survey.
For academic staff, the case is about job security, and whether you yourself risk getting kicked out if you are too difficult, or if you do not toe the line with management.
It undermines our confidence, when management invents a completely random pretext to dismiss a researcher
Professor Peter Harder
This view is held by many, including Peter Harder, Professor at Department of English, Germanic and Romance Studies. According to him, the case has not been forgotten among researchers.
Harder protested in 2016 with Professor Eske Willerslev, Professor Dorthe Dahl-Jensen and Associate Professor (now Professor) Anja C. Andersen against the premise for the dismissal.
“The mistrust between management and researchers has increased a bit, and this will continue,” says Peter Harder, who says the case is a blot on the UCPH reputation and a scandal.
Peter Harder emphasises that for him it is not about Hans Thybo as a person, but about how management acts in disputes.
“It undermines our confidence, when management invents a completely random pretext to dismiss a researcher, and doesn’t care about the fact that the arbitration says his dismissal was unjustified. This means that you as a researcher have no protection if you become unpopular with your department management,” says Peter Harder.
He finds it inconceivable that something similar could happen at a top American university.
“It reminds more of something that could happen in Putin’s Russia,” he says.
I asked management precisely what is required to [to sack employees], but was just told that UCPH is a good workplace.
Peter Harder believes that management should have laid out exactly what the reasoning was behind the sacking ofThybo.
“My theory is that Thybo was perceived as difficult and bad for the working environment, so they decided to get rid of him. If cooperation problems were the cause of dismissal, then the collective agreement does have an option for dismissal. But then put it out in the open, so we can discuss whether it was fair or not,” says Peter Harder. He adds:
“But to be the basis of a dismissal, then this must of course appear in the case file, which it clearly did not, if you look at the the arbitration court’s verdict.”
Climate scientist Professor Dorthe Dahl-Jensen was one of the four who objected to the basis of the dismissal to the UCPH board of directors. She says that the lesson from this case is “that it is not a smart thing to do to dismiss a researcher with a justification that could hit 50 per cent of all UCPH employees.”
It is not a smart thing to do to dismiss a researcher with a justification that could hit 50 per cent of all UCPH employees
Professor Dorthe Dahl-Jensen
“In reality, management should apologise, as the case creates a huge sense of insecurity among researchers,” she says.
Dorthe Dahl-Jensen adds that management in the future should be far more specific in its justifications for laying off people.
I asked management, precisely what is required to [to sack employees], but was just told that UCPH is a good workplace
Associate Professor Thomas Vils Pedersen, union representative for academic staff at UCPH says that he, and the Danish Association of Masters and PhDs (DM), don’t accept that it should be possible to dismiss a researcher based on the reasons given in the Thybo case.
It should not be possible to lay off employees on an unfair basis and in contravention of collective agreements, just to get rid of them
Associate Professor Thomas Vils Pedersen
“This creates some apprehension in research circles, as it shows just how little is needed to be made redundant,” says the union representative.
Thomas Vils Pedersen added that he would like to see the rules changed so that the workplace was forced to reinstate the employee if it lost an arbitration case. Thybo should have, in other words, got his job back.
“It should not be possible to lay off employees on an unfair basis and in contravention of collective agreements, just to get rid of them”, says Thomas Vils Pedersen.
In a letter to the UCPH board of directors from December 2017, the UCPH law professor Ditlev Tamm also argued that Thybo should have been re-hired.
At an early stage after the sacking of Thybo, Tamm joined a handful of well-known UCPH researchers in penning a protest to UCPH that ended up attracting 1,600 signatures from international scientists.
The case cannot be undone. But an honourable conclusion would be to, at least, admit to the mistake
Professor Ditlev Tamm
“I have, over time, worked in-depth with the history of the University, and I have not been able to find similar cases where the University itself, with no actual reason, has dismissed a professor. From the late era of the absolute monarchy, there are examples of this kind of abuse on the part of the Danish government for political reasons, but this should hardly be a role model,” writes Tamm in an email to the University Post, and continues:
“The case cannot be undone. But an honourable conclusion would be to, at least, admit to the mistake, and to re-hire Hans Thybo and thereby show that the University wishes to be a place where people respect not just the research and the employees, but also laws and regulations in the form of collective agreements.”
The University of Copenhagen management has not wished to comment on this story.