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  • Seppo Sainio
    The Union for University Teachers and Researchers in Finland (YLL)


    The Need for the Assessment of Operational Models

    Culture defines the ways, in which we act in certain environments. Likewise, the ways we act leave their mark in the culture of that period. There are, for instance, ancient names of operational, or working, environments preserved in the Finnish vocabulary as surnames, such as Virta (stream), Lahti (bay), Niemi (cape) or Aho (glade). In the German culture, names typically describe the occupation, in other words the operation itself, as in the following examples: Muller (Miller), Schmidt (Blacksmith), Meyer (originally meaning Mayor), Becker (originally Baker), Schäfer (shepherd), Fischer (Fisherman), or Bauer (farmer). And let us add Humboldtian thinking to the list.

    Culture changes on its own, for instance through technological development, but it is also intentionally molded. The independence given to Universities with the University Reform brought with it the chances of re-examining the operational culture of each University within restrictions set by legislation. The goals for changes in this area are, however, defined in the Universities Act. Among these goals are the enhancement of free research and education, as well as the offering of teaching of higher quality.

    The changes in the operational culture have to serve the fulfilling of the basic duties of Universities. In addition to matters pertaining to well-being at work, the changes are to be be evaluated also from this angle.

    The changes in the operational cultures of Universities have been more dramatic than many people anticipated. The continuous development of the organizational structure is the result of a more dynamic management, but it is very stressful for the personnel. Concerns on the preserving of jobs have also been on the increase. Employee cooperation negitiations caused by factors concerning productivity and economic issues have become common. At times, it has seemed that we are using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. At other quarters, major cooperation negotiations have been executed without any dismissals.

    Other changes in operational culture concern at least the decision-making system and recruitments. The centralizing of decision-making has meant the transferral of decision-making power from the personnel to the management. This has had both anticipated and unanticipated changes to the life of the working community. In the context of changes like these, many tacit and non-verbal messages related to the new position of the personnel in the organisation are also mediated.

    The motives of those who are against these changes can always be passed off as ordinary change resistance. The continuing changes are annoying and burdening. Changes are resisted also for moral reasons. They are seen to be representing neoliberalist ideologies. The views on this are located on the axes of collegiality and managerialism, and Humboldt versus business University. This discussion is important and the questions posed are well established.

    However, this is not merely a question of change resistance or attitudes towards change. Following the University Reform, power has been transferred away from the personnel at fair speed. This tendency can be observed in every University and at all levels. Could this be the time to stop for a moment to assess the executed changes from the viewpoint of the basic duties of Universities and from the angle of occupational welfare?

    Changes in the operational environment have a juncture with the basic duties as the provider of education, too. The contents and values that are being conveyed through education are credible only if they are in line with the operational culture of the working community.

    We are under obligation by the Universities Act to raise students for the service of the society. The law does not define the contents of this mission. The textual content of the law does, however, define the difference between Universities and business corporations. Businesses do not have the same kind of duty for educational services as Universities do. Neither do they have the tradition for acting in the name of promoting democracy and active citizenship.

    Seppo Sainio
    The Union for University Teachers and Researchers in Finland (YLL)

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