Yvonne Svanström
Photo: Ingmarie Andersson

Their responsibilities include education programmes, staff, the work environment, finances and a variety of other duties within their departments. When the university suddenly switched to online teaching due to the coronavirus pandemic, and both students and staff vacated the campus, it was the heads of department and their colleagues who took the lead. This rapidly evolving situation clearly demonstrated the advantages and strengths of collegial and trust-based governance.

The resumption of campus operations in one form or another will present its own set of challenges and may involve more difficult trade-offs than the decision to shut down in a crisis. There is a lot of talk about returning to the “new normal” in the near future, but it is worth remembering that there are heads of department and other staff at the university who have never experienced the “old normal”. They have undertaken their current assignments digitally during the ongoing pandemic, and still managed to keep the university’s core operations afloat.

The reliance on collegial governance means that we have heads of department who have been students, doctoral students and postdocs, who are now senior lecturers or professors. Their experience gives them insight into the different parts of the university’s core operations, and they can see the potential complications and the difficult trade-offs that must be made when the departments return to campus. This holds especially true given that the risk of the spread of infection may need to be factored into the equation. The work carried out by the heads of department is critical, and support from the faculty and Senior Management team is a very important part of this effort. As we return to on-campus teaching, we need to work together to find a sustainable way to open the doors to students and staff.

This is a text written by Yvonne Svanström, Deputy Vice President and Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, under the subject line “Words from the University's Senior Management Team”, where different members of the university’s management team take turns writing about current issues. “Words from the University's Senior Management Team” is included in each issue of “News for Staff”, a newsletter that goes out to all university employees.