We are approaching Midsummer and I realise that I have now had the privilege of being Vice-Chancellor of Umeå University for just about a year. So, how has it been from a Vice-Chancellor's perspective? This text intends to dive shallowly into what's been on my agenda over the last year.
On 1 July 2016, after an intense final period at Stockholm University, I took on my current role. I had already recruited the remaining University Management in the spring and knowing that the new management was so firmly established at their respective faculties felt incredibly comforting.
It was full speed ahead when I started with a visit to Gotland and Almedalen. This trip gave me the chance to get acquainted with some Umeå researchers who presented their work at Almedalen, and also some of our closest regional collaborative partners. The remaining summer calmed down providing me with enough space in the schedule to get to know Umeå better.
A swarming place
With August came the hustle and bustle of regular working life. The Management started discussing what the future has in store for us. At the end of the month, all new and old students swarmed back to campus and brought it back to life – in contrast to the dead calm that prevailed over the summer. The operations were now up and running again. September was introduced with some royal flair as the research project Future Forests, which has been a joint project between Umeå University, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Skogforsk, had an excursion in the Vindel forests to spread research output from the project to the Swedish King and other invited guests.
The autumn term also marked the start of the Management's visits to the departments and units. First out was the Umeå School of Sports Sciences in October 2016 and the final visit was paid to the Department of Education in May 2017. These visits have been incredibly valuable to the Management. It has provided us with good insights into the university's operations, and we have also been made aware of what challenges you are faced with in your daily work. Some of the joint challenges we face are funding and handling infrastructure, resources for research and education, as well as recruitments and employment issues. These are some issues we must focus our efforts on.
Places Umeå University on the map
Foto: Mattias Pettersson
In conjunction with the Annual Celebration, we were pleased to welcome Dennis Mukwege, one of the University's honorary doctors to campus. Through his heroic work, he has helped many women and children in a Democratic Republic of Congo struck by civil war. Beside a fascinating lecture with Dr Mukwege, the film "The man who mends women" was released showing his work at the Panzi Hospital. The Annual Celebration was also a pleasant addition to the autumnal darkness, and personally, I now feel honoured to wear the Vice-Chancellor's chain on special occasions.
Early December, a kick-off for Umeå Lunar Venture was held, a project that really will place Umeå University on the map. A group of students and researchers will be first in the world to measure the electric field of the lunar surface, and simultaneously, Umeå University will be the first Swedish higher education institution to land on the terrestrial body.
Another December event is the Nobel Day. This year, the 2014 Nobel laureate in Physiology or Medicine, Edward Moser, paid Umeå a visit to present his discoveries of the brain's positioning system. It was a near on full Aula Nordica that got the chance to listen to a breathtaking and rewarding lecture. As a side-event to the SciLifeLab and the journal Science's scientific award ceremony for best doctoral dissertation, we were also happy to see David Seekell, one of the University's Wallenberg Academy Fellows active at the Department of Ecology and Environmental Science, as one of four 2016 award winners.
In-depth collaboration with northern universities
We passed the turn of the year and found ourselves in February at the recurrent Västerbotten weeks at Grand Hôtel in Stockholm, which just like previous years included events with and organised by the University. We contributed with presentations at Skogens Dag (The Forest Day) and also organised Kunskapsnoden with an Arctic theme. Research revolving the Arctic and the northern region is something that connects researchers at all our four faculties, and we are pleased to see that our institution-wide research centre Arcum has now reached 300 affiliated researchers.
We have chosen to prioritise the Arctic as a 2017 theme to further show off the efforts that Umeå University make for the northern region. Hence, the presentations and discussion held at Kunskapsnoden marked a good start for our thematic year. On the same subject, the University Management and some of our researchers also paid a visit to our partnership university in Tromsø, where we discussed how we should further develop our collaborations. Within the scope of that work, we have widened our collaborations to make Umeå University a part of the Joint Arctic Agenda, which is a partnership between the University of Tromsø, the University of Oulu, the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi and the Luleå University of Technology.
Foto: Mattias Pettersson
As further proof that we can be counted upon when it comes to research on the northern region is ICASS IX – a large research conference focusing on artic issues in the arts and social sciences. The conference attracted as many as 800 researchers from large parts of the world on Campus Umeå at the beginning of June.
Internally at the University this spring, we have also had a few inaugurations of various types. Two of the university's focus environments, Common ground at the University Hospital of Umeå, and MIT Place in the MIT Building were inaugurated with pomp and splendour. We have also had the pleasure of opening an advanced research restaurant at the School of Restaurant and Culinary Arts. Developing the university's campus is a continuous process, and having good learning environments – both official and unofficial ones – is in everybody's interest. Another inauguration to mention is the great honour I felt in naming the University's new research vessel Botnica with its base at the Umeå Marine Sciences Centre in Norrbyn.
Basic values on the agenda
Spring also brought with it some changes to the University Management as Anders Fällström left his position as Deputy Vice-Chancellor here to start as Vice-Chancellor of the Mid Sweden University instead. Best of luck to Anders! In spring, the Swedish Government has also appointed new external members of the University Board. Hence, we thank Lennart Evrell for his services as former chairperson and greets Chris Heister a warm welcome as the current one. Our other new members are Professor Sophia Hober from the Royal Institute of Technology, and two individuals with a past at Umeå University: Professor Mohammad Fazlhashemi, now at Uppsala University, and county director Lars Lustig, former member of the board, now as deputy chairperson.
This spring, the University also took on some important tasks concerning our basic values. Already in autumn 2016, the University Board raised the issue of how we can work on long-term issues of ethics in the organisation and gave me as Vice-Chancellor the task of proposing how this could be implemented. After discussions in the management, we came to the conclusion to implement and adapt the state sector's basic values, which is valid for all public service employees, to best suit our academic operations. After initial discussions at the spring manager and head of department meeting, the Management has now charged all operations at the University with the task to, in autumn 2017, raise the issue and in a tangible manner find and discuss examples based upon the basic values.
This work must be kept going and we must always be aware of our ethical compasses. Misconduct, small and large alike, should not take place at a university.
Spring term has just come to an end and in the same way as August reminded us that we have over 30,000 students, it was just as evident when May turned to June and practically all students left our campuses. Well, the first weekend of June still offered a bustling life thanks to Brännbollsyran, but after the National Day on 6 June, campus was rather desolate. However, when the term ends, conferences begin – and we now have an even more impressive list of organised meetings in our portfolio.
First out in June was the seminar on climate in a series of seminars through the Government to discuss important societal issues based upon the recent government bill on research. The seminar was opened by the Minister for Higher Education and Research, Helene Hellmark Knutsson, followed by presentations by Umeå researchers and a panel debate. Two other large events that have recently taken place on campus are the Arctic conference, ICASS IX, mentioned above, and the jubilee symposium of the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundations turning 100 years. The KAW symposium specialised in infection research and had participants who belong to the global elite in the field, one of which was Professor Emmanuelle Charpentier.
A good institution of higher education
As mentioned at the start of this text – Midsummer is approaching – and a summer of peace and quiet hopefully awaits all colleagues at the University. It has been an eventful year in all aspects, and I am now beginning to find my feet as Vice-Chancellor. Umeå University is a good institution of higher education. We have an openness and collaborative atmosphere to really safeguard. We do well both in education, research and outreach, and we do so with good support from the University Administration.
For now, I wish all members of staff a truly enjoyable summer. See you closer to the autumn!