What happens next?

9 December 2022

Six and a half years as Deputy Vice-Chancellor have elapsed with immense speed at times, but at other times incredibly slowly. The learning curve has been steep, interrupted by long stretches of frustration. Rarely have things turned out the way they were supposed to. In retrospect, my most important reflection is that I wish I had known thirty years ago what I now know about the university.

Anything could be a simile of university life. This year, Tove Jansson's book about Moomin, Mymble and Little My turns 70. The Swedish title could be translated as "What happens next?", which is more appropriate for my purposes here. I'm not quite the same age as the book, but it's not far off. The story describes everything that happens along the way when Moomin walks home from the shop with a jug of milk for his mum. The chore seems rather straightforward and uncomplicated: bring the milk home so Moominmamma can bake buns for a party. But just like in real life, things can always happen along the way.

Heidi Hansson, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of education

Photo: Mattias Pettersson

In Tove Jansson's book, each page has a cut-out peephole where you can catch a glimpse of what the next page has in store for you. The picture that emerges when turning the page, however, is never really what you had expected. And the perspective of the previous page also changes when looking back through the peephole. This is an ingenious portrayal of the dangers of preconceptions that are too fixed, and of the importance of perspectives.

Just like in Tove Jansson's book, I've too often seen departments and offices at other parts of the university through a tiny peephole that only provides an incomplete picture. The helicopter view that my position in the University Management has provided has made me humble before the great variety of professions needed to run a university.

When looking back through the peephole, I realise that my most important work has been in the everyday situations: in the strategic councils, in student collaborations, in weekly dialogues with faculties and the Umeå School of Education, in meetings with the University Management Council and the University Management, in working committees and among colleagues. It's in those forums we have chiselled out the conditions for novel formats of instruction, a safe workplace environment and scientific breakthroughs. I will miss those great conversations deeply.

This brings me to the question that also marks the end of each page in Tove Jansson's book: What do you think happens next? This spring semester, I will continue to work on the university's application to establish a European Universities alliance. Later in the semester, I will also attempt to kickstart some activities together with our new partner universities. It is also on my agenda to look into what career support we offer new teaching and research staff, and I hope to be able to come up with some opportunities for improvement and coordination. And I will also – just like Moomin, Mymble and Little My – stay inside the book by returning to my literature research.

One of my most valued colleagues recently reminded me that there are times when the effort required doesn't justify the outcome. When Moomin finally arrives home, the milk has gone sour but Moominmamma just says: "Now we've all got a great excuse/For drinking sweet pink berry juice"! Just like in higher education in general, any plan can go awry. If so, I'll just have to rethink. It is a great privilege to have that option!

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