University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


University director clashes with strongest critic

We may have strong management, but it is not our management. So said academic Sune Auken as he faced down University of Copenhagen director Jørgen Honoré in a one-off battle of the titans

Outspoken university system critic Sune Auken has gone head-to-head with University director Jorgen Honoré, in a recent exclusive interview with our Danish sister media, Universitetsavisen. In the interview, which can be read in its entirety in the Danish newspaper version and, on the web in Danish here they hash out the big questions of university leadership, financing and assessment.

Sune Auken is a vocal and high profile participant in the debate on how the University of Copenhagen should be run.

He has recently published a book on the subject with the telling title Braindead. In the book, he slams university leaders and politicans, criticises new university legislation, and attacks the system of research assessment, the ‘bibliometric research indicator,’ whereby departments whose researchers publish the most articles are rewarded by increased funding.

Jorgen Honoré is the appointed, non-elected director of the university, the man with the power to decide, for example, how researchers’ working hours should be monitored.

These two men would seldom, if ever, agree on anything at all, and in the interview they clash heads on whose side the university management is actually on.

Invitation to irrationality

Auken says that management is »the Ministry’s representatives in the University« rather than the »University’s representatives in the Ministry«.

»We may have a strong management, but we still lack a management that is ours,« he adds.

Sune Auken attacks the shortcomings of the assessment of research based on bibliometrics – an indicator which universities agreed to after discussions with politicians.

»If you in any way burden the so-called bibliometrical research indicator with, let’s say, the criteria of truth, it collapses hopelessly. If you burden it with the criteria of relevance, it crumbles. And if you want it to be a structure of incentives, then it is an invitation to act irrationally,« he says.

Read a critical article on the bibliometric funding system here.

If not they, the politicians would have

Surprisingly, Jørgen Honoré openly agrees with some of Auken’s criticism, saying that it is difficult to make a fair bibliometrical system that works for all subject areas.

Humanities researchers have a tradition of producing long monographies, for example, rather than the short (and therefore more lucrative under the new system) articles favoured by, for example, physics researchers.

However, Honoré defends the introduction of the system by pointing out that, had the universities not agreed on an assessment structure, the politicians would have made one of their own, which could have been even more unwieldy.

No point in cutting a book into ten articles

Research quality and the research methods of the individual ought to weigh more than bibliometry financing.

But management may not quite have communicated the message as well as they could have, he says.

»If it is better for research to write a book, and it suits the researcher better, then they should do it. There is no point in cutting it up into ten articles, to make it count for ten, while the book counts for three, he says.