University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Who will be the new Rector? The guessing game

The University Post has set off on a search for Rector Ralf Hemmingsen's successor to head the University of Copenhagen.

The University of Copenhagen (UCPH) is to have a new Rector. 1 March 2017 and Ralf Hemmingsen is to step out of the gate to Frue Plads in the centre of the city for the last time after 12 years in office.

The process of finding his replacement is running behind closed doors in the UCPH Board. But it is reported that they are not just waiting for applications in the Board’s letter box. The university has discreetly invited suitable candidates to apply.

The application deadline was 25 September, the first round of interviews on 7 October, and the name of the selected rector is expected to be announced in early November.

The university has discreetly invited suitable candidates to apply.

This newsroom could have just kicked back and waited for a press release. But it is more fun to guess! So here are some suggestions for a possible new rector.

Our suggested names should be considered qualified guesswork, and are based on confidential interviews with sources. It is not certain that the suggested candidates have even applied for the job, and if they are at all interested.

When Ralf Hemmingsen extended his term as rector last time in 2013, Uniavisen ended up concluding that the Board would retain Ralf for another round. This time it will most certainly be different.

Here are the Rector job requirements:

The job posting’s set of requirements for a new rector narrow the field of candidates considerably:

The rector needs to have a background as a recognized researcher at an international level in one of the university’s disciplines. In reality, this probably means that you must be full professor to be even considered.

“It needs to be someone that has got their hands dirty, doing actual research. You don’t have the necessary authority as rector unless you have already been recognized as a scientist,” says a source.

“Proven experience in managing through others in complex knowledge organizations, where strong academic identities need to have the space to work, while at the same time functioning in line with the common good,” is another requirement.

“Insight in the education sector, and teaching experience in higher education. Good cooperation and negotiation skills, strong communication skills, and experience in protecting interests against the demands from political and commercial players,” is also required.

How much does the ‘research’ part matter?

According to sources, an essential part of the selection is how much the Board will emphasize the new rector having a background as a top researcher.

“It needs to be someone that has got their hands dirty, doing actual research. You don’t have the necessary authority as rector unless you have already been recognized as a scientist,” says a source.
The board will probably listen to the arguments of two members of the Board who have been elected by the academic staff at the university.

The two, DNA researcher Professor Eske Willerslev and astrophysicist researcher Associate Professor Anja C. Andersen, are both highly respected in their scientific fields and can say what kind of research ballast is needed to win the scientific staff’s respect and support at UCPH.

A new Ralf, or something completely different

If the board chooses to go for a good organizer, who is astute at the political game, who can get people to work together and get things done, they will probably choose a type like Ralf Hemmingsen, say our anonymous sources.

“The question is whether they want a Ralf 2.0, who can broker peace inside the organisation, or try something else. Ralf is the soft but steady hand that, for better or for worse, sees everything as a negotiation,” the source says.

Another describes Ralf Hemmingsen as a shrewd tactician – but who in turn has never been praised for his communication skills.

The prorectors

The two prorectors at UCPH, Lykke Friis – in charge of education, and Thomas Bjørnholm – in charge of research and innovation, have both been mentioned as a replacement for Ralf.

Lykke Friis has already opted out of the race on Twitter.

Against her candidature is the fact that Lykke Friis’ highest academic degree was a PhD in political science from 1997.

Several sources question whether Bjørnholm “is a strong enough candidate for the organizational and administrative parts of the job”

Bjørnholm has not announced whether he is a candidate, or whether he is fully satisfied with his current role.

Before he was prorector, he headed the Nano-Science Center at the University of Copenhagen, and he has a reputation as a skilled fundraiser, who is good at profiling his research. He helped to manage that part of the Milena Penkowa case that had to do with her research.

However, several sources question whether Bjørnholm “is a strong enough candidate for the organizational and administrative parts of the job”.

Another source names Bjørnholm as the ‘favorite’ and ‘the safe choice’.

The Deans

The six deans at the University of Copenhagen must also be considered possible candidates to move the last step up in the power pyramid. The university has a long tradition for selecting rectors who have their background in health or science. This applies to all rectors in recent times with the exception of Jens Skovboe Nørregaard of Theology (1942-48), Carl Langballe Iversen of Social Sciences (1958-66) and Linda Nielsen of Law (2002-05).

She is ‘heavy’ on the research, but sources however, consider her media shy

An obvious suggestion could be Ulla Wewer, the current Dean of the Faculty of Health and Medicine, which was also Ralf Hemmingsen’s faculty.

She has been brilliant at getting external funding, not least from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research, when the Fund allocated DKK 600 million to UCPH in 2007.

She is ‘heavy’ on the research. But sources consider her media shy however. She did not score high grades for her handling of the Penkowa scandal, where she kept her head down and let the Rector’s Office take all the blame.

A possible outsider could be the Dean of Theology, Professor Kirsten Busch Nielsen. She may be relatively new to the job, as she was appointed dean in 2013, but she is described by sources as “a woman of reason.”

“She has been admitted to the University of Copenhagen as a unit, and not for funding from her own faculty unit, so she is a possible compromise candidate,” an anonymous source said.

The heads of department

Among the many department heads at UCPH, sources mention Professor Maja Horst, head of the Department of Media, Cognition and Communication. “She has political understanding and organizational talent,” a source says.

However, it is a huge leap to go from department head to rector, and it does not speak to her advantage that she is from the Humanities as there is a UCPH tradition of getting rectors from health and science.

The center manager

The University of Copenhagen has several research centres, including BRIC, the Biotech Research & Innovation Centre, which does biomedical research, and one of the largest and most important.

We have mentioned the BRIC director Kristian Helin as a possible rector candidate before. He is also a professor with his own research group of 24 employees.

Kristian Helin is a good bet because he is a highly respected researcher in the biomedical field

Helin has had tremendous success as a scientist, and has won the Novo Nordisk Prize, the Carlsberg Foundation Research Award and the Anders Jahre Prize. In 2015, a Danish company, which was based on one of the Helin-laboratory’s projects, was sold for DKK 444 million to a US drug company.

Kristian Helin is a good candidate because he is a well-respected scientist in the biomedical field, a focus area for UCPH. He has shown that he can manage a large research center; he can get research funding – and he works well with the media.

The other rectors

One of the rectors from the other Danish universities might also be an option.

UCPH is among the best and most prestigious universities in Denmark, so a job switch might be tempting.

All universities have most likely talented rectors, but when you look at their ages and profiles, then Henrik Dam, University of Southern Denmark, Per Holten-Andersen of CBS, Hanne Leth Andersen, RUC and Mads Tofte from the IT University are the ones that fit the bill.

Per Holten-Andersen can be crossed out right away, as he just extended his contract with CBS to 2020. He otherwise had a history as the first rector of the Agricultural University and then as Dean of the Faculty of Life Sciences following the merger with the University in 2007.

Hanne Leth Andersen graduated with an advanced research degree in Romance Philology from UCPH in 1990 and a PhD in the French language also at UCPH, but she has since then been employed at Aarhus University, CBS and now at RUC. There are no indications that she is a candidate for the job.

Mads Tofte from the IT University has a MSc. in computer science and mathematics from UCPH, but is not mentioned as a potential candidate by our sources.

Only one left is Henrik Dam, who was made Rector of the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) in 2014, but was previously Dean of the Faculty of Law at UCPH, where he also qualified as a lawyer.

Henrik Dam, 48, is described as intelligent, dynamic and quick-witted. Perhaps too quick: He has a tendency to have the conclusion ready before the other person starts talking, our sources say. The question is whether Henrik Dam is at all interested in changing jobs, and whether SDU will release him from his contract if UCPH wants him. Our contact does not believe that he is among the applicants.

Other possible Danish candidates mentioned by our sources include Henrik Tvarnø, director of the A. P. Møller Foundation, and Henrik C. Wegener, prorector at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU).

The international star

Evidence suggests that UCPH may be tempted to choose an international profile for the job.

“Someone from abroad can come with a clean sheet and not be bound by special interests,” an anonymous source said.

The University of Copenhagen wrote in its press release that the post was advertised internationally to get as wide a field of applicants as possible. Every fourth scientist at the University comes from abroad, and 6,000 out of the 40,000 students have an international background.

“A Dane, a Swede or a Norwegian who is – or has been – in the US is a good bet,” says a source.

There is no doubt that UCPH has the ambition of moving up into the international university elite. This is clear from the success criteria established by the Board for the new rector: He/she should “work to create internationally excellent research and excellent teaching within the given funding framework.”

And he/she should “increase internationalization both through international cooperation opportunities, and thereby attract even better foreign talent, both among researchers and among students, with the aim of raising the quality of research and education.”

It is important to the Board that the new Rector should quickly be able to get along in Danish, that he understands Danish organizational culture, and that she/he has some insight in the Danish political system.

“A Dane, a Swede or a Norwegian who is – or has been – in the US is a good bet,” says a source.

Comeback belly flops

Against any international profile candidate is that a couple of other Danish universities have had unfortunate experiences in taking a Swede or a Dane back home.

In CBS, a Swedish rector was fired in 2011 after allegations of almost single-handedly being behind an illegal merger with the privately-owned provider of MBA titles Scandinavian International Management Institute.

At Aarhus University, Lauritz B. Holm-Nielsen’s legacy can be described as mixed. He was brought home from a job at the World Bank in Washington. But the great so-called ‘professional development’ plan, which he launched in 2011, was a flop. The plan, which merged faculties, departments and administration with a wide range of movements and administrative expenses as a consequence was one of the reasons the university later had to cutback by DKK 225 million. Lauritz B. Holm-Nielsen retired as rector in 2013.

Who will it be?

Naming a candidate is more difficult. Rectors and prorectors of other major Nordic universities should be an option.

Danes who have achieved success abroad include the likes of Peter Høj, Rector of the University of Queensland in Australia, Hans Gregersen, director of The Sino-Danish Centre for Education and Research in Beijing, Jens Kehlet Nørskov a recognized physicist at Stanford University, Lene Hau, a professor at Harvard University, and Bent Flyvbjerg, professor and Chair of Major Programme Management
ved University of Oxfords Saïd Business School.

Share your own idea of who the new rector could be in the comments box below!