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Jan Helge Solbakk

Candidate for the University Board among permanent employees with teaching and research positions.

Jan Helge Solbakk, Professor, Centre for Medical Ethics, Faculty of Medicine.

Nominated by:

  • Knut W. Ruyter, Professor, TF
  • Morten Magelssen, Associate Professor, Institute of Health and Society, MED
  • Reidar Pedersen, Professor, Institute of Health and Society, MED
  • Ragnhild Hellesø, Professor, Institute of Health and Society, MED
  • Erik Stänicke, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, SV
  • Arne Johan Vetlesen, Professor, Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas, HF
  • Tone L. Wærstad, Professor, Department of Private Law, JUS

Presentation

Jan Helge Solbakk
Jan Helge Solbakk.
Photo: Thea Cecilie Engelsen/UiO

I am Professor of medical ethics at the Centre for Medical Ethics (CME), Institute of Health and Society, Faculty of Medicine. CME is an inter-disciplinary research Centre for developing expertise in philosophy of medicine, research ethics, research integrity and clinical ethics. I was involved in the establishment of CME in 1989 and served as Head of the Centre from 1996 to 2007. In 2007 and 2008, I worked as Chief of bioethics at UNESCO’s Headquarters in Paris, where I was in charge of the organization’s global program in Bioethics. From 1996 to 2011, I was Adjunct Professor in philosophy of science and medical ethics at the Centre for International Health, University of Bergen. Since my return from Paris, I have acted as Professor and Head of Research at CME. In 2016, I was guest Professor at the University of Brasilia for 6 months.

Before joining the University of Oslo in 1996, I was Head of the secretariat of the National Research Ethics Committee for Medicine and Health Sciences (1987-1996), and Adjunct Professor in medical ethics at the University of Tromsø (1993-1996).

I have had the pleasure and privilege of coordinating several interdisciplinary, international research projects with participants from different disciplines (natural sciences, medicine, the humanities, law, educational sciences research, social sciences and theology). Since February 2021, I have been coordinating an EU funded project, HYBRIDA – the ethics of organoids, (a Science with and for Society project, SwafS 28). Additionally, I am involved in three other EU-projects; Virt2ue (about integrity in research), ROSiE – Responsible Open Science in Europe (a SwafS 30 project), and Access Africa (about post-trial access). Since 2017, I am also leading the ethics Work Platform in a Centre of Excellence project funded by the Research Council of Norway, Hybrid Technology HUB, coordinated by Stefan Krauss.
In my different leadership roles, my priority has been to create and promote a good and sustainable work ambience. In my experience, the combination of innovative ideas, epistemological excellence and sustainable funding all contribute to the flourishing of research centres. Most important, though, is that scientific critique is paired with generosity, patience and gentleness. Unfortunately, some research groups at our university lack such a safe work climate. Throughout my career, I have served as informal adviser for young researchers who have ended up in conflicts with their supervisors or other senior researchers, a role which has given me insight into how best to solve such destructive disputes.

My enthusiasm for interdisciplinary research and teaching is partly related to my student days; two years studies in mathematics and chemistry at the ¨Norwegian University of Science and Technology (1976-78), followed by a medical degree and a degree in theology (1987 and 1989) at the University of Oslo, as well as a PhD in ancient Greek philosophy (1993). More important, however, is my conviction that interdisciplinary research and teaching represent a must if the University is to fulfil its societal mission and commitment to society (more about this below).

I love teaching and supervising students and PhD research fellows. In my teaching, I make use of a wide range of knowledge traditions and artistic representations (applied ethics, anthropology, moral philosophy, visual arts, medical knowledge, music, poetry, fiction and theology).

I have been guest lecturer at several foreign universities (Sorbonne Université, France; University of Minnesota, USA; Nagasaki University, Japan; Duquesne University, USA; University of Manchester, UK; University of Pennsylvania, USA; Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium; Tel Aviv University, Israel; Universidade de Brasilia, Brazil; Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina; Universidad de Córdoba, Argentina; Universidad del Litoral, Argentina; and Universidad El Bosque, Colombia.

I have supervised 13 PhD research fellows. Of these, nine PhDs and PDs have succeeded in becoming full Professors at universities in Norway (7) and Colombia (2).

Since my time at UNESCO I have been involved in several capacity building projects in research ethics, research integrity and bioethics teaching; in sub-Saharan Africa (Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia and Tanzania), in Latin America and the Caribbean (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay, Antigua and Barbuda; and Trinidad and Tobago), and in Asia (Thailand and Myanmar). The project in Myanmar has been put on hold due to the unstable political situation. These projects have taught me the importance of cultural competence when engaging with colleagues from other cultures.

I have written and been co-author of several textbooks and research monographies in medical ethics, bioethics and the arts, and global bioethics. In addition, I have published around 75 scholarly papers and 250 opinion papers. I am a frequent participant in public debates in Norway.

From 1999-2004, I was member of the Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board, and in 2010-13 chair of the Ethics and Public Policy Committee of the International Society of Stem Cell Research. I have also had the privilege of serving as mentor for three years in the University’s Mentoring Program for female post docs.

I am fluent in five foreign languages (English, French, German, Italian and Spanish).

Motivation

My motivation for becoming member of the University Board stems, firstly, from a long-lasting interest and engagement in university politics, especially in periods when our national authorities have tried to reduce the institutional autonomy of our universities. In addition, the existence of unhealthy power structures in academia and the skewed distribution of permanent academic positions between men and women have stimulated my commitment to improve conditions at our University. I believe my broad academic background, interdisciplinary profile as a researcher, teacher, and leader, as well as international experience, might be of help in fighting abuse of power and gender imbalance in academia and in making, at least, some of the visions in Strategy 2030 come true.

Election Platform

  • Strengthen University democracy - elected leaders at all levels. The two student representatives and the representative of temporary academic staff at the University Board are elected for only one year at a time. This period should be expanded by one or several years to better ensure the continuity of internal members of the board.
  • Reorganization of research groups and educational units should be based on epistemological and scientific criteria, not solely on cost-benefit considerations.
  • More funding should be allocated to historical, critical and other forms of curiosity driven research (basic research), while the stream of money to program research and so-called utility-driven research should be reduced. To envisage in advance what kind of research that will prove useful is futile.
  • Strengthen the funding of Centre’s of excellence through long-term financing (15-20 years). It takes more than 10 years for such Centres to reach a level of sustainable excellence in research and teaching.
  • New strategic initiatives should be generated bottom-up, not top down, i.e. they should be initiated by the research and teaching environments themselves, and in constructive dialogue with the faculty and university leadership.
  • Increase the proportion of women in permanent academic positions. The glass ceiling between PD level and Professorial level for women must be broken. The mentorship program for female PDs could be further developed by implementing a ‘Professor school’ for female PDs at each Faculty.
  • Prevention of intellectual and sexual harassment. A prevalent example of intellectual harassment is the tendency among some supervisors, research group leaders and other senior researchers to force young researchers to include them as co-authors despite their contributions not complying with the rules of play of co-authorship. Follow-up procedures for younger researchers who end up in conflict with their supervisors and other peers should be improved. Training of all permanent academic staff in research ethics and research integrity represents a good start.
  • Strengthen the University’s societal mission and commitment to society. This can be achieved by offering high-quality education, by conducting excellent research within core areas of the University and by being visible and audible in the public sphere. Our societies are becoming more and more complex. This complexity requires research and teaching that move beyond disciplinary and faculty borders. By developing inter-faculty research and teaching programs, and by investing in historical and critical research, the University will be able to fulfill its societal mission. Historical research and teaching are of enormous importance to understand and navigate the time we live in.
  • Strengthen the University’s climate engagement. The University is a key player in society that must take seriously its responsibility given the current environmental crisis in the form of global warming and loss of species and habitat. Tomorrow's students expect a University committed to state-of-the-art scholarship addressing the causes and consequences, as well as possible solutions, to this largely human-made multidimensional crisis.
  • Strengthen the University’s international profile. Internally: More and more students and young researchers come from other parts of the world. They need to be taken better care of than is the case today, amongst other issues to ensure that they know their rights, not just their duties. A mentorship program for new employees from other countries and cultural backgrounds should be implemented. Externally: The University’s international profile should be shaped by the University itself, i.e., by the kind of research, development and teaching the University offers, not by Norwegian foreign policy.
  • Protecting the University’s independence. As institutions, universities have prevailed throughout the centuries because of their fundamental commitment to independent research and teaching. In these pandemic times, many universities experience pressure from political authorities to prioritize research that can help resolve the problems of the pandemic as fast as possible. This kind of pressure risks threatening institutional autonomy as well as researcher’s freedom to seek knowledge where and in ways they themselves consider best to address the variety of problems caused by the pandemic. The University should not become an institution that spends most of its time and expenditure on addressing problems a country’s political authorities wish to solve. A university's mandate is to provide the groundwork for developing sustainable and well-considered premises on which to base societal improvements, nationally as well globally.
Published May 12, 2021 4:12 PM - Last modified May 19, 2021 1:39 PM