I missed this when it was published a few days ago, but Curt Rice’s skepticism about Norway’s newly proposed tenure track positions in academia is worth reading. I’ve heard and read enough bad stories about being on the tenure track (the stress, the uncertainty, the rampant opportunities for exploitation and abuse since you’re being evaluated and threatened (with not getting tenure) by your colleagues every year) that I’m not convinced tenure track positions are the best way of helping young scholars into academia. On the other hand, we may be able to build the system differently than they have in the US, and this is certainly the time to make sure that we build it better. There’s also an ongoing debate about tenure track positions in Sweden, where they were recently introduced, Finn Arne Jørgensen wrote on Twitter. There’s certainly lots of careful thinking to do if we’re going to get tenure track positions right!
The second edition of my book Blogging is just about to go into production, and I’ve just finished double checking all the links for the blogs referenced in the book. I’m using a lot of the same blogs as in the first edition, but there are some new ones too, as you can see. Here’s the list:
A Little Pregnant. 2003–present. Julie. http://www.alittlepregnant.com
Apophenia. 1997–present. danah boyd. http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts
Arla weblogs. 2005–present. Maja Møller, Jacob Nørgård, Tove Færch, Inge and Mikael Nørby Lassen. http://arla.dk/weblogs
A few years ago, Kate and Gregor Maxwell, a British academic couple now working at Norwegian universities, started applying for academic jobs in Scandinavia. The openness of the system surprised them, as Kate blogged earlier this week:
It was a great surprise to receive the first acknowledgment [of the job application] some weeks later. It was clearly a standard letter, but its contents caused considerable eyebrow-raising in our small Parisian flat. Not at the appointment of a specialist, independent committee (from multiple institutions) to objectively assess all of the applications, but at the list of names, addresses and dates of birth of all the applicants. All of them.
The same day as the anonymous recent recruit to Norwegian academia blogged this, professors Kristian Gundersen (UiO) and Ingar Kaldal (NTNU) were featured in Dagens Næringsliv criticising the Norwegian academic hiring system for not being open enough. They think too much weight is given to “personal qualities”, teaching skills and administrative experience, and that this means that we wouldn’t hire a genius or a Nobel prize winner in the Norwegian system today. I disagree: I think a lot of weight is in fact given to research quality and that teaching and administration are key in a university environment, and I see Janne Haaland Matlary argues the same thing in a response to Gundersen and Kaldal. But I was intrigued by Professor Kaldal’s claim (only on page 14 of the paper version for 19.02.2013 unfortunately, which you can read through Atekst if you have a library connection) that the external committee report (sakkyndiges rapport) for hiring academics in Norway used to be public, and not exempt from public disclosure as it is today (Is this true? I haven’t found confirmation but don’t really know where to look?) Kaldal argues that we should make the committee reports public again for full openness.
As the Maxwells discovered, Norwegian academic job reports already are sent out in full to all the applicants for the jobs. Norwegians may be surprised to realise that this is a remarkable level of openness, internationally, as Kate Maxwell noted in a blog post on The Professor is In, an international academic career advising blog earlier this week. When she and her husband first applied for jobs in Scandinavia, they were particularly impressed by the openness of the hiring process:
As more of these letters arrived, we realised that this was the norm. And then the committee reports began to appear. These included a detailed description of each candidate’s research and education to date, their proposed research, an evaluation of their work samples, and the committee’s judgment on whether or not they were fit for the stipendiat post. Finally, the committee ranked the candidates in order, signalling which they recommended for interview. As the months passed by, these reports gave a great insight for us outsiders – and presumably to all the candidates – as to what committees were looking for. A careful scanning of the merits of the top-ranked candidates (with the help of google translate if the assessment was not presented in English) meant that Gregor was able to become his own careers advisor. Soon he was moving up the ranks, from the middle to towards the top.
In her next post, describing their job hunt after their PhDs, and this time writing about jobs in Norway rather than Sweden where the first jobs were, the “absolute clarity of the system” is again what stands out:
There are several points of interest here, and not just the low applicant numbers (low, that is, by the standards we were used to from the UK, and from what we have heard about North America). First is the absolute clarity of the system: at all points the candidates are fully informed of each other and of the process. Secondly, the process is designed to be as fair as possible. That is the reason for the full disclosure of information. Naturally, the same names appeared on some of the lists – I got to know who else in my field was looking for jobs, and of course, in a small research community, we often came across each other at conferences. Such meetings were always, in my experience, amicable and open.
I’m definitely for increased transparency in academic processes, but perhaps we already have sufficient transparency and openness in the hiring process. If it’s true that committee reports were once completely public, I would be interested in learning more about how that worked and why the system was changed. Perhaps even more openness would be valuable, but certainly absolutely open evaluation reports as in published on the web would potentially be crushing for candidates who were unfavourably reviewed, and had that judgement on their permanent online record.
And one reason I love international colleagues is seeing these reminders both of what is good and what could be improved in our own system and culture.
I had two exciting events today: I’ve been invited to join Bergen Chamber of Commerce’s resource group for ICT, and was at my first meeting this afternoon. The vibrant discussions and let’s do this spirit made me realise how much I’ve missed participating in groups outside of academia, now that last year’s monthly meetings in the Digitutvalg are over. And our discussions from the Digitutvalg and our report on hindrances for innovation in Norwegian IT mean I actually know a lot about things like public procurement processes (offentlige anbud) and the challenges they pose to innovation. If you’d asked me two years ago whether I was interested in that I’d have looked at you in perturbment, but I had great fun discussing it today. I’m the first representative for higher education and the public sector in the group too, and I’m excited to be building more bridges between the local IT industry and academia.
Then earlier today, I visited Nordahl Grieg high school to give a talk and a workshop, and had such fun.
I’ve been hearing about this school for a while: it’s the newest school in town, with fabulous architecture and wonderful ideas about digital and innovative education. And a couple of my friends work there, too, and I’ve heard about UiB’s collaboration with the school, especially in the sciences. The media students ran around taking photos, tweeting and blogging of course, so here I am, documented while talking about power in social media.
I was on a panel with Lars Nyre, who talked about technological determinism, and Knut Olav Åmås, the culture and debate editor at Aftenposten, who spoke about participating in public, online debate. My talk was about power in social media, and of course the students blogged it. Very inspiring.
Afterwards I gave a workshop for 25 or 30 students – we visualised our Facebook networks of course. It was interesting teaching high school students for a change, and I must say I would have liked to get to stick around for longer to get to know them better. Maybe I’ll get the chance to return.
I co-authored two new debate pieces this week, one on university democracy, where Vigdis Broch-Due, who is running for Pro-Rector, was the primary author, and one on the need to improve gender balance at the University of Bergen.
Both are important topics. After all, the main point of electing the university leadership rather than the University Board simply hiring a rector is that the democratic system allows us a space for debate. It’s important to have at least two teams running in order to have a true discussion of important issues in the university – and it’s important that this democratic process is a truly open one and doesn’t slip into corridor politics. I’ve been dismayed before at how decisions are not really made in the meetings, and I certainly want a more open democracy. On the other hand, I remember my grandfather’s advice about how to really get things done in a university, and realise that a lot happens behind the scenes. I’m ten years older than when I wrote that post, and as I grow older, I see people I studied with or knew in my twenties begin to take on positions of power in society in general and at the University. So how does one get things done in a truly democratic fashion?
Gender balance is another very important issue in academia, and over the last couple of weeks we’ve seen how strong the backlash against the (slow) improvements here can be. As Curt Rice wrote in his response to a particularly nasty editorial in Bergens Tidende:
Bergens Tidende writes about equality without touching the idea, before ending with a debate-strangling sentence about a person who “wants more equality” shouldn’t “create suspicion and division”. This reads like imperialistic advice from another era. Bergens Tidende skriver om likestilling uten å berøre tanken, før de avslutter med en debattkvelende formulering om at den som «ønsker mer likestilling» ikke skal «skape mistanke og splid.» Dette fremstår som et imperialistisk råd fra en annen epoke. (The English is my translation and no doubt Curt would have written better English…)
Gender balance at the University of Bergen has improved in the ten years since I finished my PhD here. Then I wrote about the discomfort I felt at only have one female colleague I regularly saw apart from the secretarial staff. Hilde and I are still the only women in Digital Culture (but we’re a small group, six academic staff members) but now our three PhD candidates are women, we have women post.docs. coming through and I have established a much better network with other women academics at UiB. Less than 10% of professors were women then, we have 22% now. Last semester, after presenting alumni plans to the Humanities faculty leadership team (the dean, pro-dean, faculty director and heads of department) and realising they were all grey-haired men except the head of the centre for gender research and the pro-dean, I organised a seminar for all the female academics in our (large, multidisciplinary) department, from PhD students to professors, and just getting to know these thirty women better was invaluable.
The last couple of days hateful comments against women in public debate have been discussed in several media, after a Swedish documentary. Hilde Sandvik at Bergens Tidende wrote about a 14 year old girl who wrote an opinion piece for the newspaper receiving absolutely horrific, violently and sexually aggressive comments. This is not isolated, many, many, many other examples were given. Gunn Hild Lem talks about the fear women are brought up to feel, and how this fear stops us doing things that might expose us to violence and attacks - including participating in public debate. Avoiding walking home alone at night may be sensible (I certainly tell my teenaged daughter not to) but it also stops women from participating in society as men can. But what if the verbal aggression against women who speak in public or take part in debates is also something we (understandably) almost instinctively avoid? What if women avoid positions of leadership or taking part in public debates because of this “passive fear”, just as we avoid walking home alone at night?
I doubt any university professor would stoop to violent comments of the caliber referenced in those articles. But we have so very few women in university leadership, significantly fewer than any other Norwegian university. Only six of 35 heads of department are women, and only one of six deans.
We have to do better. We need a culture where women are encouraged to run for election, and are encouraged to apply for positions as heads of department. We need a culture that sees the need for diversity in leadership and in teaching and research. I’m very happy that my colleagues in Team Atakan agree with this.
Last week, I taught a three hour class on Nordic electronic literature into our first year undergraduate course DIKULT103: Digital Genres: Digital Art, Electronic Literature and Computer Games. The course is taught in English, and we usually have about 40 students where 10-15 are exchange students. Rather appallingly, we haven’t really taught Nordic electronic literature in the course, so this year we remedied that. Here’s the lesson plan. Continue Reading →