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Rector farewell

SDU is created by people

The excellent human relations, research and education that make a difference and a unique culture of collaboration are some of the characteristics that make SDU a unique university, says the outgoing Rector.

By Bolette Marie Kjær Jørgensen, , 6/24/2021

Henrik Dam is still Rector of SDU for a little while longer, but by the end of July, his time as principal leader of the nation’s third-largest university comes to an end.

After seven years in the position, he has chosen to bid SDU farewell in favour of a position as Director of The Danish Organization of General Practitioners (PLO).

Freedom is being restricted

Henrik Dam is leaving the university world in a turbulent time when politicians, among other things, pursue goals of relocating student places based on regional policy considerations and criticise certain research environments at universities for supporting ‘researcher activism and pseudoscience’.

- In my opinion, the biggest challenge now and in the future is that the state is intervening more and more. This limits the universities’ influence on their own development and leads the decisions further away from the academic expertise. I find that development worrying, says Henrik Dam.

Proposal for parliamentary resolution

In particular, the proposal for parliamentary resolution passed by a majority of parties in the Danish Parliament on 1 June, with the wording (translated from Danish) that ‘ university managements must continuously ensure that the self-regulation of scientific practice works. This means that should be no unification, that politics is not disguised as science and that it is not possible to systematically evade justified academic criticism ’ is in Henrik Dam’s view an expression that undermines the trust between democracy and universities.

- Universities must never compromise on safeguarding the freedom of research and expression. There is no need to remind us of this, just as we need not remind politicians to respect freedom of research and expression. He stresses that he will not miss that development when stepping down as Rector.

People create SDU

On the other hand, he is confident that he will miss the thing that makes SDU truly unique: all the excellent working relations.

- There is no doubt in my mind that the collaboration with the incredibly many dedicated staff members and students has given me a strong foundation to stand on in the performance while serving as Rector. The excellent relationships and the skilled, innovative people have truly enriched my working life.

- I’m proud to have enjoyed that privilege. I have enjoyed every single workday at SDU, and I will be leaving this exciting and innovative place with a heavy heart. It’s people who create SDU, not buildings, says Henrik Dam, who also emphasises that SDU has a strong collaborative culture that is characterised by great and mutual trust.

Regional anchoring and internationally oriented

According to Henrik Dam, this is a great strength for the University. This, combined with a solid external anchoring in the region, the strong interaction with the business community, the municipalities and the entire civil society, creates the conditions for SDU to be able to continue and expand its position.

- SDU is an internationally oriented university, and we are a world leader in several areas of research. We can take pride in that.

Part of a rector’s job description includes travelling around the world to visit collaborative relations. One trip in particular made an indelible impression on Henrik Dam: His visit in January 2020 to SDU’s field station in Guinea-Bissau, where researchers Christine Stabell Benn and Peter Aaby’s work with vaccination programmes has contributed to the country’s infant mortality dropping from 50 percent to 7 percent in the forty years the project has been ongoing.

Research is an international discipline

- The work I saw at the field station was a stellar example of how research can make a difference. It was specifically about children’s chances of survival or not. Here you can really talk about what research is for; namely, to make the world a better place – not just your own country, but in fact the whole world.

- Research is an international discipline, and the ability of knowledge to break national borders is absolutely necessary for us to create the necessary solutions. This was evident in Guinea-Bissau and it makes me proud, not just on my own behalf, but on behalf of all of SDU.

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Editing was completed: 24.06.2021