Lena Mäler, Stefan Helgesson and Yvonne Svanström, Deputy Vice Presidents. Photo: Sören Andersson

“Collegiality” is one of the values often mentioned in university contexts. Yet what it actually entails – apart from mutual respect between colleagues – can be unclear.

From a management perspective, collegiality is not least about the crucial principle that teaching staff should control its own activities. The university is our workplace, and we have a shared responsibility for its functioning. It is for this reason that we have department boards, faculty boards, and managers who are usually drawn from their own ranks (e.g., heads of departments, deans, deputy vice presidents).

For this arrangement to work, teachers must take turns with their colleagues with regard to who assumes these management roles. The alternative would be universities that were built more like companies, with strict line management and professionalised managers. Examples of this can be found in some places, but we doubt that there are very many people at SU who want to apply that model. Above all, we think that it would result in the loss of something essential about the very idea of what a university is – a place for the unconditional search for knowledge.

That does not mean that our collegial governance is immune to threats. When the pressure of work increases due to eroded appropriations and intensifying competition in research, while managerial assignments (especially that of head of department) simultaneously become more complex, that can stifle the collegial generosity that the system requires. We are concerned about an increasing degree of administration associated with the expanded reporting requirements resulting from various types of audits – and once again, our heads of department are being hit the hardest. Part of this administration is “invisible”, i.e., a higher proportion of tasks are assigned to the head of department, without this actually being visible. The heads of department are given increasing responsibility for ensuring that procedures are in place and for regulatory compliance.

Moreover, especially in the wake of the debates on academic freedom we saw this past spring, we notice that the spirit of the times is shifting. Detailed governance of universities (for example, regarding how their education is organised) seems to be increasing – even though governance of various kinds has always existed. Yet a university is not just any public authority. Most of us share the expectation that we should have a relatively large measure of independence when it comes to being able to choose our research areas and define which education is important to provide. It is therefore worrying that we seem to be moving towards stricter micromanagement, and that targeted financial investments are being made in some subjects but not in others. Poorer economic conditions in general can dig holes in collegial trust as education and research areas are pitted against each other.

In light of this, it is even more important to safeguard collegial governance. What we need are leaders who can take responsibility for ensuring that the university remains the workplace we want it to be. We deputy vice presidents see it as part of our mission to continue to work together with the deans, heads of department, and other academic managers to provide continued opportunities to lead the university’s activities in a collegial manner. In a knowledge organisation, there must be time for strategic long-term thinking, as well as for the rapid and continued development of new ideas. We believe that this can best be achieved through collegial governance.  


This text is written by Deputy Vice Presidents Stefan Helgesson, Lena Mäler and Yvonne Svanström. It appears in the section “Words from the Management”, in which members of the university’s management team take turns to write about topical issues. The section appears in News for staff which is distributed to the entirety of the University staff.