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Kristian Bjørkdahl

Candidate for the University Board among the fixed-term employees with teaching and research positions

Nominated by

  • Helena M. Strandli Schmidt, Doctoral Research Fellow, Faculty of Theology
  • Jan Terje Andersen, Associate Professor, Institute of Clinical Medicine, MED
  • Irmelin Axelsen, Doctoral Research Fellow, Museum of Cultural History
  • Melina Antonia Buns, Doctoral Research Fellow, Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History, HF
  • Tone Druglitrø, Associate Professor, TIK Centre for Technology, Innovation and Culture, SV
  • Åsmund Husabø Eikenes, Senior Lecturer, MN
  • Ingrid Lossius Falkum, Researcher, Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas, HF
  • Arve Hansen, Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre for Development and Environment
  • Karoline Andrea Ihlebæk, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Media and Communication, HF
  • Janicke S. Kaasa, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Literature, Area Studies and European Languages, HF
  • Kjersti Lohne, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law, JUS
  • Sigrun Marie Moss, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Psychology, SV
  • Gry Oftedal, Researcher, Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas, HF
  • Hilde Reinertsen, Postdoctoral Fellow, TIK Centre for Technology, Innovation and Culture, SV

Election platform

I am running for the election to the University Board as representative for the fixed-term academic staff with teaching and research responsibilities for two main reasons. First, over the last 11 years, I have been temporary employed in the research sector, and believe I have gained a few insights into the career challenges that this group faces. Second, through my own research, I have grown increasingly aware of the incentives that are now changing the nature academia in many ways. In some cases, the changes that result from these new incentives are good, and ought to be welcomed. In other cases, however, I am convinced that they stand in the way of the University’s fulfilling its mandate.

Academics – not least those in fixed-term positions – are busy people, and university politics is not something we typically prioritize. But precisely because the university is now changing so rapidly and radically, I belive we need to re-ignite our interest in and care for the institution for which we work. If can cannot gain a more central role in the decisions taken at this University, we will in any case have to face the consequences of decisions made by someone else.

I would like to emphasize three issues that are of particular importance to me: 

Reducing – and improving – fixed-term employment

I want to make sure that the ambition to reduce fixed-term employment at UiO is followed up, and to make the conditions for those in such positions better, more secure, and more well-defined.

The prevalence of employees in fixed-term positions is greater in academia than in almost any other sector in Norway, and UiO performs badly relative to other academic institutions in this country. Certain other countries, like the US, the UK, and Australia are examples of how fixed-term staff, especially in teaching, are becoming a “precariat”, and it is imperative that we keep this tendency from spreading here. Recently, the minister instructed all academic institutions to reduce their use of fixed-term positions, and our rector has expressed an intention to follow up. These are important ambitions, and I would like to contribute to making sure they become a reality. At the same time, I want to highlight how fixed-term employment is incentivized by certain structures that are now in place in this sector, not least the turn to short-term project-based financing. These stuctures restrict UiO’s capacity to deal with the problem, and I would want the board, as well as other entities at the University, to influence decision makers to rethink how the sector is financed.

The other main imperative pertaining to fixed-term employment is to improve conditions for those who are in temporary positions. There are many relevant measures that can help make temporary academics’ career better, more secure, and more well-defined: The institutions at UiO should define more clearly what they expect of its fixed-term staff, the employment policy can be made more generous and explicit, and the degree to which fixed-term academics are involved in all aspects of the University’s activity can be greatly expanded. 

University democracy and local autonomy

I want to safeguard and reinvigorate university democracy. This means not only to keep the system of elected leadership, but also to make sure each instiution at UiO is governed and evaluated in ways that are actually appropriate for their respective activities.

There are many reasons to safeguard university democracy, and one of them is well formulated by Stefan Collini (versobooks.com). It is that the only thing that distinguishes a university from any other institution is academic research and research-based teaching. At a university, the scientific activity is the primary one, while the role of administration is to make sure that research and teaching can happen freely and upon academic objectives and criteria. At UiO this principle is challenged on a daily basis; a growing arsenal of requirements, routines, and systems are imposed on academic staff, creating misplaced incentives on research and teaching, while also stealing time from what ought to be the university’s primary tasks. These requirements, routines, and systems tend also to be standardized across departments, faculties, and discplines – which are entities that actually have very different goals and needs.

I would like to see this trend reversed. It is my opinion that more decision making should take place at each institution at UiO, so that each is granted more freedom to organize its research and teaching in a way that is effective and appropriate for that particular institution. The ambition to reinvigorate university democracy goes beyond the issue of whether we ought to have elected or professional leadership – an issue where I am strongly in favor of the former – since one cannot, in any case, manage one’s way to good research. At a university, to refrain from managing is as important as actually managing. The goal of administration should here be to make sure the primary activity of the university can proceed unhindered, and this type of accomodation is best done, I believe, by those in everyday contact with researchers/teachers, i.e. each institution.

Collegial competence – in all three pillars

I believe that teaching and communication at UiO, as with research, should be exposed to continuing collegial training, discussion and critique.

A characteristic of scientific research is the requirement that it be exposed to peer review, that anyone who thinks she has something worthy of publication must first confront and respond to criticism. While the institution of peer review is far from flawless, it nevertheless has undeniable value. When your work is reviewed by peers, you are forced to eliminate errors and bias, to make your presentation clear and your arguments tight, to incorporate texts, perspectives, voices, or facts that in sum increase the relevance of your contribution. Peer review quite simply improves the quality of research. It is my conviction that a similar practice can be used to enhance the two other pillars of the university’s activity.

To a certain extent, this is already happening at UiO, thanks to the teaching and learning in higher education course (Universitetspedagogikken). I would want this program to be expanded and continually improved, and at the same time, I want to work to establish, at UiO, other conversations and forums where academic staff can help each other improve the quality of their teaching, modelled on the various forms of peer review used in research.

In addition, I want a similar program to be established for the final pillar, science communication. Given that science communication is one of the three pillars of the university, it is strange that we are not using academic and experience-based knowledge more systematically to enhance the quality of science communication at UiO. I will work towards establishing a course in science communication for all academic staff, based partly on Universitetspedagogikken and partly on MNKOM. I also want to establish practices for collegial training, discussion and criticism of science communication that go beyond formal courses.

About me

I am a scholar of rhetoric, and have a PhD in rhetoric from UiO (2016). For the last 11 years, I have been in fixed-term positions in academia, and am currently a postdoc fellow at the UiO:Nordic project «Nordic Branding», and employed at the Centre for Development and the Environment (SUM), where I do research on the idea of Nordic colonial innocence. I am also in a temporary (substitute) position as head of teaching at SUM, and I head a Research Council-funded project called Communicative Circuitry of the Green Shift (CoGS), on science communication and sustainable transitions. I also lead SUM’s research group The Politics of Nordic Generosity ved SUM. Until recently, I was the coordinator for UiO:Nordic’s emerging scholars network. In addition to positions at UiO, I have previously worked at Uni Research Rokkansenteret, in Bergen, and have been a guest researcher at University College London. I have never worked at an institution that was not interdisciplinary.

Published May 3, 2019 11:28 AM - Last modified May 3, 2019 11:28 AM