The sacking of a scientist at the University of Copenhagen threatens freedom of research

Heine Andersen
Heine Andersen 398 Comments
1,645 Signatures Goal: 2,000

We, the undersigned members of the Danish academic community hereby encourage colleagues to support a protest against the dismissal of a highly esteemed professor at the University of Copenhagen. With short notice, professor Hans Thybo, geologist and geophysicist, has been dismissed from his professorship, been removed from The University of Copenhagen, and denied access to his office. The official arguments for the dismissal are weak and can hardly be considered to be the actual reasons: he has advised a younger colleague on the completion of a questionnaire concerning the working environment at his institute, and he has used his private e-mail address in matters concerning his job as a scientist.

The dismissal is not only a violation of the rights of professor Thybo, but also a serious threat which may jeopardize academic freedom, and the need for innovative thinking irrespective of what the institutional leadership wants. If the dismissal is not retracted, it may create anxiety in academic circles at the University of Copenhagen and elsewhere. We therefore urge colleagues in Denmark and abroad to support this protest by signing the following petition, addressed to the management of the University of Copenhagen

Prof Frans Gregersen, prof emer. Lene Koch, prof Niels Kærgaard, prof Bente Klarlund Pedersen, prof Ditlev Tamm, prof Ole Wæver, all Univ of Copenhagen


"Rector Ralf Hemmingsen, University of Copenhagen

Professor Hans Thybo has been fired by the University of Copenhagen. The reasons given are his advice to a postdoc to answer a university questionnaire honestly and as a subsidiary reason, his use of his private email for work-related issues. The undersigned do not accept these as adequate grounds for dismissal and urge the university authorities either to state the real reasons (if they exist) or to reinstate Professor Thybo”.

.........................................................................................................................................................

January 9th 2017

The group behind the petition sent the petition and the at that point in time 1507 signatures to the Rector of the University of Copenhagen, Professor, dr. med. Ralf Hemmingsen. The petition was accompanied by the following letter (originally in Danish):

Dear Ralf Hemmingsen

Rector at the University of Copenhagen

As the initiators of the petition we hereby forward to you the 1507 [now, January 15th: 1570] signatures and the many valuable comments accompanying them.

The University of Copenhagen has fired one of its most prominent scientists, professor of geophysics, Hans Thybo. In fact, it is not important whether he is prominent or not, the arguments for such a decisive step must be clear and beyond doubt. The official argument for firing Thybo was that the Faculty had lost confidence that HT could perform his professional duties. This serious accusation has later been extended with the claim that HT as the superior of a post doc had abused his position to influence the post doc´s completion of a questionnaire concerning the working environment at the institute. And that HT had continued to use his g-mail for university related correspondence, even after he had been instructed by the management not to do so.

Thus there was a general reason as well as two specific ones for the sacking of HT. These must be related since the specific reasons were the cause of initiating the sacking procedure. It turns out that these specific reasons are unjustified. The post doc in question has declared that he was in no way the victim of undue influence, and the rector has himself declared that the use of a private mail address cannot justify legal steps such as the ones we have witnessed

This resumé of the case serves to put the situation in perspective. The signatures and the petition we have initiated concerns a matter of principle. We do not condone everything that HT has done over the years of his scientific life, we do not have the knowledge to do that; neither should the petition be seen as a declaration of mistrust of the management of IGN or the faculty as such. Our protest solely concerns the firing of an employee on the basis of insufficient evidence, in this case two offences which since one of them is non-existent and the other by admission insufficient, by no means may be considered a warrant to take such drastic measures. If things remain unaltered the result will be to establish a precedent for the management to fire anyone, whom the management considers untrustworthy.

As these two reasons to fire are not legitimate, a decision not to reinstate HT must imply that in the future the university management will support any institute or faculty manager who considers a given employee untrustworthy – regardless of objective reasons. For all of us this represents an attack on academic freedom, and sanctions arbitrary decisions and requires blind trust in the management - even when it makes decisions which are objectively wrong.

We urge the University of Copenhagen, i.e. you as its head, to reconsider the short and long term implications of the decision you have made. In our view the only reasonable decision is to reinstate HT in his chair.

Yours sincerely

Frans Gregersen, Lene Koch, Niels Kærgård, Bente Klarlund Pedersen, Ditlev Tamm and Ole Wæver


Friday 13th we received the following answer from the Rector (in Danish). We intend to rebut soon.

Kære Frans Gregersen

Tak for dit brev om afskedigelsen af professor Hans Thybo. Det er en sag, du og fem andre medunderskrivere har valgt at engagere jer i. Og en række kollegaer fra ind- og udland har skrevet under på den tekst, I har lagt på en hjemmeside. Jeg formoder, at det er sket på baggrund af omtale i pressen, samtaler med Hans Thybo og kollegaer. Jeg anerkender og forstår, at I er optaget af, hvordan universitetet håndterer en svær sag. Og hvis det var sådan, som I oplyser – at der er svage argumenter bag afskedigelsen og tale om at begrænse forskningsfriheden – ville jeg såmænd selv skrive under. Men det er der nu ikke tale om. I er sikkert klar over, at jeg ifølge Forvaltningsloven og Lov om offentlighed i forvaltningen ikke må kommentere sagens konkrete detaljer. Sagen bliver for tiden forhandlet mellem ,oderniseringsstyrelsen og Magisterforeningen. Begge dele følger spillereglerne på det danske arbejdsmarked og tjener det formål at beskytte den pågældende medarbejder. Jeg kan imidlertid slå fast, at der ikke er faldet nogle argumenter bort, herunder ikke hvad angår chikanen af en navngivet postdoc. Dem betragter vi fortsat som alvorlige set i den sammenhæng, de indgår i.

Jeg er selvfølgelig opmærksom på, at sagen tolkes ind i en bredere sammenhæng: Hvad er forskernes handlerum? Knægter universitetet principper om forskningsfrihed? Har ledelserne tiltaget sig en for markant rolle i styringen af universiteterne? Det er en interessant debat og et tema, som også ligger mig meget på sinde. Men der er tre forhold, du bør være opmærksom på.

For det første er der ingen sammenhæng mellem den konkrete sag og de mere forvaltningspolitiske temaer, du nævner. Der intet belæg for at tale om, at der er sket et overgreb på den akademiske frihed. Så vidt jeg ved, har det aldrig været drøftet, hvordan forskning skulle bedrives, og hvad Hans Thybo skulle forske i. Der er derimod tale om en enkeltstående og usædvanlig sag og ikke en ændring af den hidtidige praksis for det akademiske råderum på KU.

For det andet er der tale om, at dekanen har truffet en afgørelse efter indstilling fra den lokale ledelse. Du er sikkert opmærksom på, at rektoratet bl.a. har modtaget breve fra en stor gruppe medarbejdere på instituttet samt fra alle tillidsmænd på instituttet. De udtrykker deres fulde tillid til den lokale ledelse. Jeg ved selvfølgelig ikke, om I også har haft lejlighed til at være i dialog med medarbejderne på IGN?

En beslutning om afskedigelse må altid – i sidste ende - bero på ledelsens samlede skøn af alle forhold i en given sag. Som det vil være dig bekendt indgår de konkrete punkter i afskedigelsen i en større sammenhæng. Sagen her bliver forsøgt håndteret med størst muligt hensyn til de mange parter, der er involveret. KU skal være en god arbejdsplads for alle medarbejdere. Her har vi ikke mindst et ansvar for de ph.d.- og postdoc-forskertalenter, som vi uddanner til den næste generation af forskere.

For det tredje er der tale om en debat, der foregår ved stort set alle europæiske universiteter. Hvordan finder vi en balance mellem kreativitet og forskernes virkelyst på den ene side og på den anden side samfundets krav om, at universiteterne kan redegøre for, hvad f.eks. ressourcerne, herunder fondsdonationer, bruges til, og om arbejdsmiljøet er godt? Hvad er den rigtige balance?

Jeg er enig i, at der skal være en høj grad af sikkerhed i ansættelsen for KU’s fastansatte professorer. Og at det er et væsentligt aspekt for at kunne rekruttere internationalt. Der vil fortsat være en sådan høj grad af sikkerhed i ansættelsen for professorer – og for medarbejderne i det hele taget.

Sagen ændrer dog ikke ved, at alle grupper af medarbejdere har et medansvar for at skabe et godt, åbent og tillidsfuldt samarbejde og følge de krav, universitetet som samlet organisation nødvendigvis må stille.

Hvad angår det helt essentielle tema om forskningsfriheden, det akademiske råderum og rammerne herfor, deltager jeg meget gerne i debatten. Tiden kalder måske på et intensiveret fokus på de fundamentale vilkår for forskning og uddannelse på universiteterne. Som du ved, har jeg stedse fremhævet den akademiske frihed som universitetets fundament.

Jeg takker for din og jeres oprigtige interesse for sagen og universitetets ve og vel.

Med venlig hilsen

Ralf Hemmingsen

5

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