As two of Lund University’s deans, we react strongly to Thomas Frostberg’s column published 24 October. The column, entitled “The university’s innovation initiative back to the past”, gives an account of the university’s review of its research, innovation and collaboration support structure, portraying it as a power play in which “the faculties and their leaders, the deans, see themselves as the only real power brokers as they control the core research and education operations”. We do not identify with this description, but we understand that it depends on which glasses one is reading with, and whom one has spoken to.
We are not writing in order to put forward our views on Thomas Frostberg’s description of our powers or ambitions – it is incorrect, but can be helpful in our daily actions – but because we believe the column gives a misleading account of two critical points. For one, it describes the proposed direction as the university closing over; and it gives a misleading image of the nature of the university.
As to the first point, the column finally concludes that “the problem with the review is not the proposal to move the innovation operations to the faculties – on the contrary, it needs further anchoring there – but that the reviewer’s thorough mapping reveals a strongly introverted perspective.” So the findings are not the problem, and the review was thoroughly conducted, but it is wrong anyway. And on top of this are added a few blows that clearly reflect party interests.
Nowhere does the column mention what the initiatives from recent years have actually led to, or why so many people within the university are so critical of these areas. Is it simply a reaction to Per Eriksson that is behind all this? Perhaps Thomas Frostberg could speak to a few of us. We’d be happy to! Let us therefore say a few words about how we view collaboration. Large parts of Lund University are currently characterized by a strong dedication and desire to collaborate. This dedication is driven by direct contact with interested parties – both financially motivated through e.g. commercialization of knowledge, and desire-driven by researchers who actively search for an audience outside the walls of academia.
This dedication is also driven intra-academically, e.g. through the international accreditation that the School of Economics and Management is involved in, and through national initiatives to review collaboration activities. There is nothing, nothing, in the proposal that should lead anyone to worry that we are putting the brakes on such initiatives; on the contrary, many of the suggestions are about providing better support for them. As Thomas Frostberg writes, the innovation and collaboration functions must be firmly anchored with the faculties - that, unfortunately, hasn’t always been the case. Only then can we benefit from the collaboration opportunities we are all looking for.
As to the second point, the skepticism towards the Vice-Chancellor’s power that is described is largely correct, but it is impossible to understand unless viewed against the background of how the university is, in large part, run from the bottom up. A lot of our research is funded by external grants that we apply for in competition with other researchers and institutions. The freedom that individual staff members have to shape their own work, or pursue their own initiatives in education, research and collaboration is not just a fundamental reflection of the university’s nature, it is also a reflection on its power structure – at times frustrating for the Vice-Chancellor, deans and department heads alike.
We are fully aware that the power struggle described in the column is a more compelling story, but that does not make it any less incorrect.
Fredrik Andersson, Dean at the School of Economics and Management
Viktor Öwall, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering LTH
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