We lost the elections, but I am so glad to have experienced the campaign!
As you may remember, this semester I ran for election as vice-rector in Kuvvet Atakan’s team. Today the results were announced. We won 41% of the votes, which wasn’t enough to win, but certainly shows that a great many people at the University of Bergen supported us. Being part of a university election campaign was an amazing educational experience and I have learnt so much about the university and about university politics. And it was fun, too! Our opponents ran a very professional campaign, with a campaign manager, a support group they’d gathered over the last year, and many prominent student politicians. Our campaign was much less coordinated and planned, and though we certainly tried to convince people to vote for us we didn’t really ask groups of people to mobilise troops on our behalf. Quite likely we should have.
I’m generally quite torn about the professionalisation of university elections, which was also a topic on NRK Hordaland on Monday night. This is the first year that the rector candidates have had a budget for the campaign, 25,000 kr each. Apparently the University of Oslo gives candidates more. It seems reasonable to compensate for the cost of flyers and so forth in order to try to get as good a debate as possible, because the main point of having an elected rector is to encourage debate about issues that are important to the university. And we certainly had a lot of debate this year. There were dozens of letters to the editor, many meetings with voters and 25 separate debate meetings across the faculties and departments of the university. We didn’t turn down a single invitation to come and speak with groups, large or small, and although we spoke to many, we kept hearing that Team Olsen had been there the month before. They must have surgically gone through every single student group, PhD student group and department in the whole university. Very smart but I have no idea where they found the time! We literally spend 2-3 hours most days of the week for 2-3 months on the campaign, and my impression is that Team Olsen must have spent more – although they also had a much larger support group (well, we didn’t actually have a support group) so perhaps they were able to spread things around more. Having a more “professionalised” campaign may mean more debate, which is good but hey, only 29% of students and employees voted. Last time, with a much less professional campaign and far fewer debates, 39% voted. So does having a budget and rollups and buttons and campaign managers really make for more democracy? And if this campaign was more intense than in 2009, and 2009 was more intense than 2005 – what will the campaign in 2017 look like? Do we really want to keep escalating this?
Participating in a rector campaign comes on top of your regular job. I haven’t finished the chapter I was supposed to have completed weeks ago, I’ve done no new research and have skipped many staff meetings I really should have attended. It’s not been easy, with small kids that need me every afternoon. But it’s been an amazing learning experience. I have met people – many leaders but also students and professors and staff – from every part of the university and have discussed problems specific to so many different groups. I have been impressed by the astounding knowledge student politicians have of the university system and its politics. I have stopped being nervous in debates, and can easily drop a few sound bites about internationalisation needing to combine research and student exchange or about the university needing a digital strategy that spans education, research, administration and communication. I have grown to know and respect the professors of medicine, social-anthropology and seismology in our team – a gift in itself. And I have enjoyed getting to know our opponents too – we have seen them at so many events and have shared this campaign in many ways.
I like many things about Dag Rune Olsen and his team, although obviously I also disagree with parts of their program and their approach. But our two teams agreed about more than we disagreed about, and I’m looking forwards to working with them in the next four years – I’ll have to, as head of the alumni board! Luckily, I’ve had several conversations with Dag Rune about alumni, both before and after the election campaign, and I’m sure we’ll be able to work well together.
Having spent so much time thinking about and discussing university politics I also know that there are some things I’m going to keep fighting for. A better gender balance, especially in leadership positions in the university, is one of them. Better use of digital tools in education and subject-specific digital skills for students and teachers is another. I think we need to do an even better job in international relations, especially in looking after newcomers. And I want to keep working for the humanities, and (but not only) the digital humanities, and be more active in the discussions at the research council and elsewhere – we should all take part in these national (and international) discussions, and I want to participate more than I have.
So congratulations to Dag Rune Olsen and his team, and I look forwards to continuing to participate in discussions about university politics in the years to come!
(Also, not getting elected means I get the sabbatical I had coming to me – a whole year of nothing but research starting next semester! Hooray!)