The Vice-Chancellor's speeches
Winter Conferment Ceremony, 2023-01-26
Mr County Governor
Madam Chair of the University Board
This is a celebration of science and scholarship. A festival of knowledge that we celebrate with you: doctors and honorary doctors who have chosen to pursue the path of learning. This is wonderful, impressive and important and it is the reason we gather here today – to confer doctor’s degrees upon you in accordance with our traditions and to honour all of your individual contributions. Your new title brings academic status, but also a responsibility to stand up for your knowledge and your convictions.
This is difficult at times. Sometimes, when the winds of prejudice and preconceived opinions are blowing, speaking out for knowledge is a struggle. When that’s the way it feels, I urge you: consider the alternative. Imagine that the opinion expressed most vociferously was accepted as definitive and that everyone was always expected to think alike.
But that is not the way it is. We do not have a consensus on every issue and our task is not completed. Research is in progress.
And as long as this is the way things are, it is important that we do not silence debate or fall silent ourselves. It is the multiplicity of perspectives that enables the dimensions to emerge more clearly, that brings out the conflicting goals. It is in diversity that we avoid naivety. Dear new doctoral graduates, you all bear witness to this.
Together you are adding further shards of knowledge to the great mosaic of learning that has been laid in the course of human history.
Just listen to a few of the subjects you have addressed:
Reconstruction of limited companies; Neonatal care in Nepal; The amino acid transporter SLC38A10 and knockout mice; Publishing translations; Fever in primary care consultations; A risky and polarised world; Early school writing; Synergies between power generation and electrical vehicle charging; God and the world.
These are just a few random examples of all the areas to which you have devoted your doctoral studies. Why did you choose these particular fields? I assume that most of you would answer: curiosity. It is the will to understand and to contribute that propels scholarship and science onwards, step by step.
All you new doctoral graduates sitting here are also part of a shared project. For some of you, this will have been obvious throughout your doctoral studies. For others, the undertaking will have reflected a joint ambition, to strive towards a common goal as a group. For some, it will have been more of a solitary trek at times. But if we zoom out, it is easy to see that we all share in the same task.
Here I would also like to include our honorary doctors. We have called upon you and invited you to officially join our community because we see that you, in your various ways, have contributed to the quest for answers and understanding.
Uppsala University encompasses a breadth that arises out of all the narrow slices side by side. I think this is the reason why I take such delight in Uppsala University. Here we have the ability to see what each individual tree looks like and simultaneously study the interaction in the forest. We see in the interdisciplinary initiatives we have launched how the breadth of the University nourishes new insights. I think this is marvellous.
Curiosity, which I touched on above, is marvellous too. The force that motivates the child to turn over stones in search of unfamiliar insects is the same force that motivates the etymologist’s search for the first instance of a word in print, the astronomer’s desire to comprehend infinity and the pharmacist’s need to understand the side-effects of substances. We are motivated by curiosity and the desire to understand. This insight captures the essence of basic research, which is why it is so important. Knowledge is beneficial in itself and it is only when we have it that we find out exactly what benefits it can offer.
Now you new doctoral graduates have completed an important stage in your life. This brings a title, a position, but also a responsibility. It is a responsibility you share with our esteemed honorary doctors. As authorities in your field, you have power to influence other people’s ideas. Do so, taking care of the truth. Simplify when possible, but do not trivialise, be pedagogical but do not compromise on content, and remember what you are authorities in.
Mr County Governor
Madam Chair of the University Board
We gather today on this happy occasion to celebrate that you, our dear new professors, have reached an important staging post on the highway of knowledge. Your new title not only comes with new academic status, it also brings greater freedom and responsibility in the service of scholarship and science here at our Alma Mater. You have a long series of academic successes behind you, and perhaps a few setbacks too. This gives you experience, knowledge and, probably, wisdom. Now you can put greater weight behind your insights and theories.
This is worth celebrating in many ways, and so we shall. First, however, a few reflections.
Being a university professor is no small matter. In many connections, you will be heeded as role models, as those that know and understand. You are now our appointed ambassadors, our foremost spokespeople in your particular fields. Hold the flag high.
In these troubled times this is surely more important than ever. We are constantly exposed to campaigns aimed at shaking our belief in what we know, in authorities and in our perception of reality. We are aware of this and know that it is demanding and difficult to respond to lies and slander with objectivity and facts. Having said that, a great danger lies in believing that everyone is out to get us, that society must close ranks and treat everyone and everything as a threat.
Sometimes we who work at universities have been called too inclined to trust when we consider it possible to collaborate with academics from authoritarian states or think we can receive students from countries that seek to control their citizens. But I would say that those who believe we can create security by reinforcing a ‘we and them’ mentality are displaying ignorance and fear. The University is a light in an increasingly dark world.
However, we face an inherent problem. A university is a place where there must be room for divergent perspectives and views. Right and wrong are binary concepts, but the world is rarely one or zero. It is therefore my task as Vice-Chancellor to defend debate and to call on all who have knowledge to contribute on an issue to make their voice heard. Moreover, a university must always act for respect and openness.
I believe we need to talk more about how to stand up for one another even in cases where we differ.
All that I have said is also connected with academic freedom.
It is easy to forget that the society we live in influences research – that the function of the knowledge that is in demand in public debate is to provide quick answers in urgent situations. But scholarship and science proceed at their own pace. We know that many of the answers that really benefit society, that drive knowledge forward and open doors to new fields, are not made to order. Research and teaching are best pursued on their own terms. I believe it is important for us to strive jointly to avoid research being put in a position of dependence to politics or trends, and we must protect basic research.
When I speak of academic freedom, I include intellectual freedom. An important aspect of this is to challenge received ideas, as well as daring to ask those inconvenient questions about things that everyone around us seems to take for granted.
So, my dear new professors, your work moving forward continues to be a matter of presenting and explaining, but also of expressing unexpected perspectives and in that sense being awkward when necessary. Point out consequences and discrepancies. Explain the conflicts between competing objectives. Make your unique contribution clearly, uprightly and openly. Speak out on behalf of science and scholarship. And remember this: knowledge and truth do not go either with or against the grain. They simply are.
Mr County Governor
Esteemed Honorary Fellow
We are here to speak Latin – as you will soon notice. This is part of our tradition and requires us to watch what we say. We hold our traditions dear and bear them with pride, because we see the value of tending our roots so that the tree whose branches, twigs and leaves we are will continue to grow. Turn your eyes to the ceiling. You will see the metaphor painted there.
While you are looking up, you can direct your gaze to the seal above the stage. We can reasonably say that much of what we stand for is incorporated in the walls of this beautiful auditorium, and this is one more example. The words in the seal: Grace, truth, nature – in Latin of course – are rightly interpreted as meaning that we find truth by means of grace and nature. We speak less about grace now than in the 17th century, when the seal was created, and more about knowledge based on experience, but then as now, truth – VERITAS – is central. And that is what you all have in common. Whatever your subject or faculty, you seek the truth and you all do so using the scientific method: thesis, antithesis, synthesis.
By scrutinising arguments and testing theories, we all strive to increase knowledge and awareness about ourselves, about the power of thought and about the nature and state of this world.
But other qualities are also built into our house, which may not be so easily discerned but which I hope we all feel and share.
What I have in mind are certain fundamental values and standards. Uppsala University is a living balancing act. Imagine Libra – the two scales of a balance – where we fill the one with responsibility and the other with freedom. When these are in balance, the University works as intended. We take responsibility for our choices, for critically examining, questioning, investigating, confirming, problematising.
At the same time, we are committed to freedom to choose what we focus on, our inquiry must be our own and our knowledge must be unfiltered and principled.
In another similar balance, we hold the dream of the utterly boundless openness of research in one scale and responsible internationalisation in another. We understand the pros and cons and watch carefully over the consequences of our choices. Balance is integral to our very being, and rightly so.
The academic freedom I am speaking of is no cosmetic matter, it has nothing to do with vanity. No, academic freedom concerns our democracy, and is fundamental to an open society. If academic freedom – to think freely, to choose the focus of our research, to publish and debate without restrictions – is limited, we are on a slippery slope.
I am particularly motivated to dwell on these issues by the fact that some of them have been hot topics lately. There have been misunderstandings, alleging naivety on our part about the ways in which we collaborate and who we enter into agreements with. I will not deny that there are examples of mistakes, but we approach these issues with the utmost professional seriousness and always ensure that collaborations occur at an academic level, with academic intentions. If there is any uncertainty, we investigate and cooperate with other public authorities. Just to be clear about that.
But what I really wish to focus on here is not how we, as a public authority, act in cases of doubt. What I want to highlight is the principle that we have a desire and a duty to collaborate with researchers throughout the world. By its very nature, a university is international. A university that is constrained by ignorance born of fear will be a poor university. Everyone can understand that the best cancer treatment is the one that is the best in the world, not the best in Sweden, that an outstanding theory about black holes is not a regional issue. We must collaborate and it is possible to be inclusive in academic discourse and academic development even with researchers from countries where the regime desires to control and interfere. Indeed, perhaps it is precisely researchers from countries with authoritarian regimes that we must find ways to collaborate with. The persistent, undramatic efforts of academics can often ultimately lead to positive change.
No doubt I am preaching to the converted. The things I am saying are not news to you. You know it already, just like your predecessors – our proud jubilee doctors, for example, who stepped across Parnassus 50 years ago, just as you new doctors are about to do. Yet I will remind you nonetheless of the importance of our guiding lights – the same lights that shone 50 years ago and long before that must not be extinguished. We must not be limited by unwarranted interference. Our role is to be the broad, wise university, and when I peruse the titles of our new doctors’ theses I feel quite reassured. Just listen to a few examples of what the new doctors here in this auditorium have written about and the areas they cover between them:
The Question of Human Dignity
Seismic Exploration for Metallic Minerals
Imaging Christianity in African Film
Individualisation of Drug Treatment
Women’s Fear of Childbirth
French Theatre in the Romantic Period
Street Working Children in Kurdistan
Transforming the City of Kiruna
Environmental Effects from Wave Power
Just think of the knowledge you possess between you. Think what a wealth of insight and understanding exists in our University, in our small city.
I hope you appreciate the implications and understand how vital it is that the University retains ownership of its own reality, and that we share our insights – freely and globally. My hope as Vice-Chancellor is that you who are sitting here, with your vast collective knowledge, will make common cause with me and all other people of good sense and continue to maintain the balancing act. I appeal to you, moreover, to join in the debate. Explain to everyone what academic freedom means for us, for Sweden as a research nation, for the University and for the future.
Being an academic means having the privilege of cultivating freedom of thought while taking responsibility for knowledge.
Madam Deputy Secretary-General
In 1954 Dag Hammarskjöld held a speech at the University of California. Almost seventy years have passed since then, but I can’t help thinking that some of his words could also have been said today.
Of course, the context at that time was somewhat different. The Secretary-General was talking about the years and challenges after the Second World War and the sacrifices and efforts that were necessary in that period. But then he said:
When I speak of the high price of peace, I am not thinking of the burden of armaments. That is in the picture of course. But I am thinking primarily, of the price in terms of the demands upon our capacity for patience and for steadiness of purpose. The process of learning to live together without war in this torn and distracted world of ours is going to continue to be painful and a constant challenge for the rest of our lives. Yet we know what the choice is. Either We manage it or we face disaster.
Steadiness of purpose. Why are we here?
At our University in Uppsala, we want to assist in the efforts that Dag Hammarskjöld worked so hard to set in motion. We want to be a constructive listener, a centre for knowledge where perspectives and cultural differences can interact and be heard. We want to acknowledge our shortcomings and occasional prejudices openly and fearlessly so we can overcome our pride, get to the core of the conflicts across our world and do all we can to contribute to solutions.
That is our purpose in this.
And we must succeed, or else face disaster.
After the Second World War, nuclear weapons scared humanity – that was the disaster to which Hammarskjöld was referring.
Today we are in a similar situation yet again. The tensions between the communist world and the west, which Hammarskjöld managed as best he could, are no longer what they were. They are now, generations later, often distorted and blurred memories of a time passed, that some miss and others want to forget. We have leaders who use history as a justification, nationalism as motivation and fear as fuel – in that fuel also nuclear disaster might be brewing.
Last year we inaugurated the Alva Myrdal Centre for Nuclear Disarmament. The centre offers an important new angle that will contribute new expertise and knowledge to our peace and conflict research. This shows steadiness of purpose.
And so does this lecture. It is a great privilege to stand here today as Vice-Chancellor of Uppsala university and to welcome you – Deputy Secretary-General Ms. Amina J. Mohammed – to our Grand Auditorium in which our great alumnus also met the students and colleagues of his Alma Mater during his time here.
In the speech I quoted, Dag Hammarskjöld took a humble approach to what the United Nations could accomplish. He was sure of his mission, but painfully aware of the obstacles and finished his speech like this:
It has been said that the United Nations was not created in order to bring us to heaven but in order to save us from hell. I think that sums up as well as anything I have heard both the essential role of the United Nations and the attitude of mind that we should bring to its support.
I can only agree.
A warm welcome to you all. I now give the floor to Professor Peter Wallensteen.
Mr County Governor of Uppsala
Mr County Governor of Gotland
Madam Chair of the University Board
Mr Chair of Uppsala Municipal Council
I would like to begin by addressing each and every one of our new honorary doctors and new doctoral graduates directly and thanking you as personally as it is possible to do from a rostrum.
My heartfelt congratulations, and those of the University, on your new status, on your personal passage through the eye of the needle, on earning the title of doctor or honorary doctor at Uppsala University, the first university in the Nordic region. I welcome you today with appreciation and pride. I hope you all feel it.
I would also like to thank each and every one of you for your contributions to research, for carrying the heritage forward, for helping to advance science and scholarship and being champions of knowledge. The breadth of your – new doctoral graduates’ – work promises well for the future and encompasses, among other topics, studies on:
- The Hebrew Bible in Swedish media
- Cyber operations
- Same-sex marriage and partnership
- Post-traumatic stress
- Human intestines
- Anabolic steroids
- Knitting patterns
- An oasis in the Libyan Desert
- Linguistic style among Finland-Swedes
- Mining futures in Sweden
- Gender equality and conflict
- Drawing science
- Thin-film solar cells
It is difficult to grasp how many aspects of our world you can explain in depth between you.
I would also like to thank you for conducting your studies at Uppsala University and thereby doing your Alma Mater such a great service. You have enriched us and strengthened our position in the world. Thank you for all these things.
Today we are united in our feeling of pride and joy – all the faculties with their new doctoral graduates and honorary doctors. One university – in Latin, universitas, a whole. A vast array of knowledge is assembled in this room. However, other qualities unite us, apart from our University, our being gathered here in the same auditorium, and our common humanity. What do we all share? And by the way, I would like to include everyone here in this auditorium, supervisors, degree conferrers, friends, family members. What do we have in common?
My answer comes with a hope. I believe and hope that we can agree that we have curiosity in common, that we all desire to learn more and understand more about what makes our world tick. We are not all interested in everything, but I can guarantee each and every one of us has a special interest in some aspect of the world – this applies to our new doctoral graduates at least. I think we can also agree that the scientific method – thesis, antithesis, synthesis – the methodical proof of an idea, is a working model that we approve of and embrace. Finally, though, I believe there is one more thing that is relevant in this connection and that we share: doubt.
Having supervised a fair number of doctoral students, I have learned along the way that regardless of previous experience and personal maturity, no one escapes the sickly pallor of doubt. At some point while working on their thesis, every doctoral student goes to see their supervisor after a sleepless night with the question: “Is what I’m doing any good?”
There is a desperation in these words with a deeply existential subtext. Anyone who has heard this question knows that it has several components. Do my findings have any scientific or scholarly value? Are my insights really new? Can I justly make the claims I do? Do my arguments hold up? Are my claims interesting? Will I be exposed as an impostor? And above all these questions hovers the most important: Am I good enough?
Does this feel familiar?
As a supervisor I then find myself in a new position. The agonised doctoral student has given me a task that is not just academic. Instead, it is a question of restoring the doctoral student’s self-belief and explaining calmly and methodically that what they are doing is good, as long as it is. Correcting what is wrong can probably wait. The important thing is to listen and be supportive, so as to help put their work back on track.
But doubt is something we can probably never be rid of.
Uppsala University pledges in its mission statement that we will contribute to a better world. I have no desire to change this formulation, but we are certainly all liable to feel that some of our working days do not contain any very significant contributions to improving the world. On days when doubt has already reared its head, these kinds of thoughts can leave us feeling downhearted and out of sorts.
On days like that, I try to find something to cheer me up. I might get a smile, for example, out of Tage Danielsson’s well-expressed assertion: “Without doubt, you don’t really know what you’re talking about.”
I believe he’s onto something important. Beyond the essential ambiguity and humour, something resonates, there’s a depth that touches on a fundamental truth. Perhaps that’s precisely what makes it funny, by the way.
A person who feels no doubt about their abilities or their allegedly brilliant conclusions isn’t really quite right. I mean: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. That was one of the ideas I just claimed we had in common, wasn’t it? I had the impression you agreed. If you did, you surely also agree that this method includes questioning our assumptions and analysing the real knowledge content. By questioning ourselves and others, by thinking it over once more and seeking to analyse, we verify and confirm our results. With this awareness, with this approach, perhaps we can also be a bit kinder towards ourselves when doubt sets in. Because seen this way, questioning is part of the process and a necessary condition for all progress. Your doubt, your sleepless nights, your agonising have brought you here today. You’ve reached your destination, you can alight on the platform. This stage of your journey is over and you can stop feeling doubtful about your achievement.
And remember this: the whole University, supervisors, colleagues, external reviewers, all those who have followed your progress and seen what you have done, have come to the same conclusion after examining your arguments, listening to your reasoning, and reading your texts. You really do know what you’re talking about, there’s no doubt about it.
Personal morality is complex. It is developed over a long period and influenced by so many factors that it is likely impossible to dissect it fully. But if we try nevertheless, we soon reach the conclusion that our upbringing and culture are the main components, with major roles being played by our ability to empathise, our self-confidence that influences our moral courage, our religion or lack thereof, our social status and understanding of the world around us.
In every period of repression, the objectification of the ‘other’ has always been crucial in suppressing moral warning signs. This reasoning is based on the idea that if a person is not part of our culture, is of a different kind, does not belong to our social sphere or does not share our belief, there is nothing to say that it is a person for whom it is worth feeling empathy. In the most extreme case, even the value of being human is removed from the enemy or the victim, leaving no obstacles in the way for most people. Morality is crippled.
Such strategies were developed extensively under the reign of the Nazis, and today we recognise and criticise them while using those same strategies in other contexts in our view of the ‘other’ in conflicts closer to home. We rationalise our actions by distancing ourselves from the person; by viewing them as representative of a philosophy and choosing to only see what’s on the surface.
I believe we all need to reflect on these issues on a regular basis. We need to reconsider our view of other people and our perception of the world around us and analyse why we are more interested in people we don’t know who are suffering geographically close to us than in people suffering a long way away. What is our personal responsibility? What can we do to see the person underneath it all?
Today we are going to be listening to Renée Poznanski, Professor Emerita of History at Ben Gurion University of the Negev.
During this nineteenth Hugo Valentin lecture, she will discuss her research on the reasons why fewer Jews from France were killed than from other surrounding countries in the war. What led to fewer Jews being sent to concentration camps under Vichy France than under other neighbouring countries’ governments?
Could it have been the case that indoctrination failed to grip the French to the same extent, and that the French felt more empathy for the Jews than other countries as they continued to view them as an integrated group of the French nation?
As Vice-Chancellor of Uppsala University, I am thrilled to welcome you here today and I thank you for sharing your expertise with us.
A warm welcome to all of you who have come to listen too.
Mr County Governor
Madam Chair of the University Board
Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. These words from Kris Kristofferson’s song, interpreted by Janis Joplin, often come into my head when I think of the word ‘freedom’. In that text, freedom means being without commitments, without ties: that is what makes a person completely free. When nothing matters anymore, there is nothing to hold you back. Perhaps that is total freedom. Desirable for some, often romanticised – actually rather lonely and sad.
When we talk about freedom in academia, however, we have something else in mind.
What we talk about is responsible freedom, the freedom of self-determination within certain limits. Though it may not be as cool, this too is a kind of freedom. If Joplin’s freedom means burning the candle at both ends, academic freedom is an energy-efficient light bulb – freedom with responsibility.
Yet academic freedom is a wonderful thing. It’s a kind of contract. Those of us who desire – and who should receive – this kind of freedom know that it does not entitle us to behave however we want. We can’t just head for the Californian sunshine and hope for the best. No; we pledge to devote ourselves to our field of expertise, using the resources at our disposal, within the time we have set. These are rather strict parameters. What we want is the right and the opportunity to think critically – to examine, comment and discuss – without limits. We want to be able to determine completely independently the focus and direction of our research, and on top of that, we need the right to pursue it wherever it leads us. For even if research is a partly predictable process, the point in fact is that we cannot know in advance what will surprise us and capture our interest. That’s precisely why we do it. The kick of discovering the unexpected, which could perhaps lead to answers to questions that we were not always aware we were going to ask. That is the kind of freedom we are talking about.
Dear friends, we are now about to inaugurate new professors here at Uppsala University – all these colleagues who, in their new position, will shape our future for a long time to come. New professors, I hope you have pondered the meaning of this freedom that we seek, and to some extent possess. I would like you to reflect on how you, as leaders in your respective fields, can give your colleagues and the doctoral students you meet as much freedom as possible. This, after all, is the best gift you can give.
This insight came home to me a few years ago when I was at a symposium in memory of one of our Nobel Prize winners, Arne Tiselius. A cheerful pensioner who had been one of his doctoral students told me that a few years into his research, he had come up with a new idea. Seized with enthusiasm, the young doctoral student had set off in pursuit and as time flew by, it was months before he realised that his famous supervisor was not yet aware that his doctoral studies had taken a side track. Feeling rather nervous, he plucked up courage and arranged a meeting with Tiselius. Would he be reprimanded? Would his idea be utterly trashed? But Arne Tiselius had not been angry. He had listened carefully and, after a fairly lengthy explanation, he had said: “Very interesting, carry on.”
This encouragement and freedom had meant the world to the young man. With his self-confidence boosted and his sense of security reinforced, he went on to enjoy a long and successful career.
A second insight to note is that we need to work together. Make use of the freedom inherent in acting across boundaries. Uppsala University is dropping down the rankings. This is serious. Many collaborations depend on our reputation. In all the contexts in which we participate, we must collectively improve our record of showing that we come from Uppsala University. Our name is known around the globe. We must continue to uphold this name and give it substance. Furthermore, I believe it is important that we aim to publish more extensively in the most prestigious journals. This creates waves. In addition, we need to be bold. We must discuss, we must question. A university is not worthy of its name if there is no room for differences of opinion and perspective. And we must listen. We must rely on one another’s expertise. Imagine what we could achieve if we worked together even better.
A third insight is that the whole academic community needs to do a better job of explaining what research is. Today, false claims and lies are spread by people who use disagreements in the scientific community as an argument. Not everyone agrees, they say. These arguments impress those who do not realise that science is the best thing we have. Though we and our colleagues don’t know everything, we are the people who know most – collectively. Spreading knowledge about falsifiability; about thesis, antithesis and synthesis; about theory, probability and truth – is a great and difficult task. But if we do not do it, who will? If we don’t explain, how will the truth about the breeding grounds of lies be exposed?
So, my dear new professors: the road lies before us, parts of it clearly marked out, much of it unknown. The University requires you to perform many tasks and shoulder heavy burdens, but I hope you will enjoy doing so and think them worth bearing. Resist territorial thinking, small-mindedness and envy. Believe in curiosity, in the desire to turn over stones because it’s exciting to see what lies underneath, believe in the aspiration to improve and to understand, in remaining focused until the insights come. Believe in yourself and in Uppsala University.
I would like to congratulate each and every one of you. Make use of your newly gained status as a professor and the opportunities this position brings. Feel the winds of freedom – with responsibility – and you will be helping Uppsala University, this wonderful university we share, to become even better.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me take you back some 15 years. The place is Lima, Peru, and my two PhD exchange students Maria and Hugo from the International Science Programme are due to defend their doctoral theses. On my first day there, I am invited to listen in at a workshop. Being jetlagged, I am not at my most alert and during a lecture on the synthesis of nanoparticles I have a hard time keeping my eyes open. Then we come to a study of the effect of temperature on the size of particles and suddenly something happens. The lecturer presents a graph showing the temperature in degrees Celsius and size in Angstroms. The analysis is made using the Arrhenius equation. A lecturer I have never met on the other side of the planet is using the ‘Uppsala graph’ and I am filled with a sense of pride – of how special it is to come from Uppsala University.
For me, the University is a place where higher education and open international research meet and enrich one another. Here there is a tradition of learning combined with an indomitable drive to seek and develop new knowledge.
However, there is more to us than that. Our mission is not just to get on with what universities are good at, but also to work on what we are good for. Working for a better world means, for our part, strengthening the position of science and scholarship. To do this, we must interact with those around us: in society regionally, nationally and globally, and with business for entrepreneurship and industrialisation. Education cannot be an internal affair; it needs to be outward-looking.
I am convinced that universities have survived and evolved as institutions for nearly 1000 years because of their methodology and approach – the scientific model. We academics are curious – we want to know how things work. We observe what exists and desire to create something new. We get an idea, we come up with a hypothesis. At university, we have the privilege of working in academic freedom – of seeking knowledge freely and choosing our research freely. But on the other hand, we work under scientific constraints; we test our theses, check our premises. We analyse our results. Create methods and models. In open academic research, theories, findings and models are debated freely. Critical thinking plays a central role and the discussions generate new ideas and new hypotheses. This process of feedback is well expressed in English: we do re-search. So it is a matter of re-thinking, re-flecting, thinking again.
Perhaps that is what Thomas Thorild means by thinking rightly: “Thinking freely is great, but thinking freely and thinking again is greater”. The question of what is greatest remains moot.
I would say that doubt and constant reconsideration are crucial. Tage Danielsson puts it well: “Without doubt, no one is wise.” I believe this is the recipe against resistance to knowledge, fake news and populism. Our methodology and our approach to knowledge are perhaps the most important characteristics to communicate and explain in our encounters with the world around us.
Uppsala University is a broad or, if we prefer, a virtually complete university. We have experts on everything here. Subject knowledge is strong in all fields. At our Alma Mater, we have world-leading, pioneering research at all levels. We are outstanding in the individual disciplines, in our centres and in innovative interdisciplinary projects. However, we do not rest on our laurels. We need even more ideas about how to work both in depth and across disciplinary lines. We also need to know more about how to disseminate research productively and usefully.
Then, of course, we have an inspiring history of science and scholarship, we have music, choirs and cultural life. I believe our history deserves to be displayed around town far more than is now the case. For example, why not do something exciting with the Celsius Building, lay out the periodic system in the pedestrian zone and tell the story of all the elements discovered around Uppsala and in Sweden?
I personally was attracted to Uppsala as a student because it was a genuine university town. You could study virtually any subject and then there was the student life, of course. As everyone knows, Uppsala University has a unique student scene, with great diversity, student influence, the students’ unions, the nations, and the opportunity during your time as a student here to make new friends, find a partner, build relations that last a lifetime.
I look forward to discussing what sets us apart from other higher education institutions in our vicinity, in our country and globally. What are we best in the world at, and what do we have the potential to be best at? As a broad university, how are we to formulate our uniqueness so as to attract the best students and researchers?
In our discussions during the autumn, we have talked about the leadership succession as the passing of a baton. I think the Mission, Goals and Strategies document adopted almost exactly a year ago is excellent and I am happy to race on with that document after our handover. The overall objectives emerge out of a collegial process and are established for the University as a whole. However, the process of fleshing out the goals and designing strategies for achieving them belongs to the faculties and departments. To quote incoming Deputy Vice-Chancellor Coco Norén: “The magic happens at the departments.”
One issue close to my heart is also at the core of the Mission, Goals and Strategies: education and research belong together. One highlight of my life personally and as a researcher was when I was invited for coffee and ice cream at the home of Nobel Laureate Rudy Marcus in Pasadena. At 90 plus, he was – and is – still passionately active and had many intricate questions about our solar cell research. When we took a well-deserved break, my wife Simone asked what motivated him. He answered, “Meeting the students.” He said that the students gave him energy and inspiration to continue with research. His attitude is an example to all of us who have the privilege of doing research at a university. The polar opposite, which I have always vehemently disliked, is the expression “buying out of teaching”.
External collaboration and engagement must be an integral part of our education and research. We are a strong force driving Sweden as an innovative country, but we can do a better job of communicating Uppsala’s image as a strong innovative region. My own experience is that basic research, applied research and commercialisation are often mutually enriching and generate new questions and ideas.
Collaboration is equally relevant to all parts of the University, no matter whether the external partner is a company, a government agency, a local authority or region, or some other organisation in society. All collaboration is predicated on respect for the integrity of science and an understanding that the University operates under different conditions and with different goals than companies and other collaboration partners. We need to keep several perspectives in our head at once and remember that the long-term perspective is key.
We can find concrete examples in the exciting range of courses and programmes we offer for lifelong learning, and in the opportunities for external organisations to come into contact, through us, with students who are eager to develop personally and to contribute to development. In addition, I see great potential for the alumni networks to strengthen our activities in all three of our main pillars: education, research and collaboration. We must be a university for the entire community and always uphold education, but also democracy and social debate.
We are currently extremely successful in attracting project funding from the Swedish Research Council and other sources. This gives us good opportunities for joint interdisciplinary endeavours across faculty boundaries. We need to be creative in finding organisational forms to avoid situations where one participant merely provides service to another, so that the resources can spread horizontally and not just pass down vertically. We can develop methods for assessing how successful we are in interdisciplinary research, and that means bypassing simple and crude measuring tools like numbers of publications, citations and the h-index.
We already have splendid interdisciplinary centres and projects, but I would like to mention in particular one area that concerns everyone and is our greatest societal challenge – sustainable development. I want to discuss with all stakeholders how Uppsala University can become a place that the world listens to and wants to work with on climate change adaptation. Our research and education must set an example, and similarly, our internal application of the 2030 Agenda must be integrated in our activities in a way that inspires emulation.
Campus Gotland is unique. Here there is further potential for development and exciting conditions for trying out new paths in multi- and interdisciplinarity, including regional collaboration. Our activities on Gotland are growing and the unique setting in the Baltic Sea is in itself a means of attracting research projects and students. An exciting side of our future lies here.
Equal opportunities are another key issue for the future. Everyone, and I emphasise, everyone who works at or comes into contact with the University has, and must always have, equal rights and opportunities. This goes without saying and is a quality issue for the University. We need to continue to work on gender equality, in particular at professorial level, where the ratio between women and men is still lopsided, at approximately 30/70. We can take better advantage of our varying backgrounds when appointing members of committees, councils and boards. I intend to continue to pursue Vice-Chancellor Åkesson’s line of ‘widening participation’. Equal opportunities must be just as much an integral part of all our activities as the 2030 Agenda. We must be an open and welcoming university.
We have high ambitions for our quality assurance and enhancement. We aspire constantly to improve. Regular analyses and discussions enable us to reconsider the direction of our activities and the issues we address, on the one hand, and our organisation and allocation of resources on the other hand. As Vice-Chancellor I will have the task, in 2021, to begin work on an upcoming research evaluation aimed at enhancing the quality and relevance of our research. I am aware of the existence of a certain evaluation fatigue, but we need a good awareness of where we stand in research terms to reinforce our self-confidence to continue our excellent research and provide inspiration for renewal. In this process we must draw on all the evaluations we receive from sources such as our research applications to funding bodies and foundations.
Uppsala University must continue to be, and advance its standing as, a world-leading broad university. So how do we know that we are a world-leading university? I think university rankings should be taken with a pinch of salt. We should have a critical discussion on how they are produced and used, and should develop alternative indicators as measures of a university’s success and importance. But we must not shy away from the rankings either. I look forward to discussing our attitude towards rankings, how we can improve and how we can use the rankings.
However, what is most important is to be attractive to international researchers, teachers and students at all levels. Uppsala is home to the world; here we can learn from diversity and create global networks. We must continue to enhance our reception and integration of foreign Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD students and staff. By making it easier for our own staff and students to spend time at other universities, I hope even more of us will take advantage of the opportunities offered by a stay abroad. We have several interesting international networks that we can all benefit from and contribute to.
The University Library has always had a broad educational and cultural mission. These days it has an additional role as well. While the Library retains its position as a hub of the University’s activities, the digital revolution has had an enormous impact on the search for knowledge. Digitisation is a force for democracy that we welcome and that benefits researchers and students the world over. At the same time, digitisation demands substantial resources at the local level. This is a fact we have to take into account. The role of libraries is changing, but in their new incarnation they are more important than ever, as nodes but also access points to the world’s archive of knowledge.
We all have a responsibility to be aware of our work environment and to endeavour constantly to develop and improve it. A good environment should be safe, open, respectful, stimulating and challenging. The COVID-19 pandemic has required major efforts and I hope we can all play our part by staying in touch and establishing new contacts, particularly with newcomers to Uppsala. We are discovering new virtual forms for group meetings, seminars and dinners with friends and colleagues.
Research infrastructure is a prioritised area where we are making intensive efforts to find structures and processes for prioritisation, long-term funding and governance, internally at the University, nationally and in the EU. Here I look forward to Uppsala University playing a prominent and proactive role.
Top quality support and talent management will continue to be provided at all levels. All teaching and research staff must have resources and opportunities to realise their potential to the full. Having recruited excellent young researchers, we must give them resources and opportunities to build up their research groups, develop courses, write applications and everything else involved in university life.
We must be able to provide the best possible conditions for studying at Uppsala University, with modern teaching premises and study spaces, and readily accessible and robust technology for online meetings. Heads of department bear a heavy responsibility. Can they be given better support?
If we take our Mission, Goals and Strategies a step further – what will be doing at Uppsala University in 10, 20 or 30 years? How can we maintain and improve our world-leading status in the face of intensifying competition and when other parts of the world have considerably greater resources?
As an old table tennis enthusiast, I draw an analogy to how Sweden managed to defeat China 5-0 in the team world championships in 1989. The ratio between the numbers of professional players in the two countries was about 1 to 100,000. Sweden had a long tradition in table tennis and a broad group of established players performing at a high level. The Swedish Table Tennis Association developed a long-term strategy to give a unique generation of young talents like Waldner, Persson and Appelgren the chance to develop freely, to challenge one another and to undertake international exchanges with China, among others, so as to meet the best players there and benefit from new training methods.
I believe it is a good strategy for Uppsala University too to look 10–20 years ahead: with our deep subject knowledge and cross-disciplinary breadth, I hope we can obtain additional resources to actively recruit the best young researchers, to give them good resources and opportunities to develop their research at the highest international level. To enable them together to establish successful research environments, which in turn attract new talented researchers and students.
How will Uppsala, with its two universities, develop? What does the future look like for Visby as a university town? Development Plan 2050 provides very interesting reading and offers a framework for the University’s spatial structure and its integration in both our cities. I envisage a vibrant student and nation scene with young people attracted to study, to benefit from a complete spectrum of knowledge and courses, to be in surroundings full of innovative research and to meet people from every corner of the globe. What will they be studying and what sort of research will be done? Perhaps it would be interesting to develop activities associated with long-term future studies.
The Vice-Chancellor’s chain of office symbolises the University’s unity. Our broad University, with its nine faculties and strong position in the global academic landscape, gives us together opportunities to take on the great issues of today and tomorrow with self-confidence and creativity. I take up my new position as a link in the chain with humility and curiosity. I look forward to exciting cooperative projects and to continuing together to develop and create Uppsala University.