What is at the core of the work that is done at universities? What makes universities universities, cradles of the highest education and research? People. Not rooms, halls or even face to face meetings; not processes, matrices or the highly acclaimed remote connections, but passion for knowledge and sharing it.
The new situation really is new as I write this; schools have switched to working from home nationwide today, and in my home, school children are learning new ways to learn. In addition to extra work, the new situation brings with it nervousness and even fear, but on the other hand the work continues: In the morning I participated in a meeting, as I did yesterday evening, and I already have a couple of discussions reserved for tomorrow. I supervise theses and in the afternoon, a dissertation. I am currently planning the outline of a manuscript and straightening out the results of statistical analyses; of course I am also writing this article that can be classified as societal interaction.
The only difference is that I do this at home, relying on electronic systems. The digital leap as a term is quite horrendous, but we are living it right now at full steam. The physical doors of universities are closed in many places, but the work continues; the development work that has been buried under acute pressures calls. From the point of view of wellbeing at work and coping, it is crucial that support systems work and that shaping new arrangements for operating and teaching does not take all energy. For sure, the load is heavy now, but the members of the university community have flexibility and the ability to do things in new ways.
Management is being tested to the utmost, and on all levels it needs to have expertise, supportiveness, clarity and patience. Overreacting is not in universities’ nature, and we do not need it now under exceptional circumstances. Clear and equitable instructions lessen misgivings, support for using electronic tools maintains the ability to function and productivity, and competent communication supports communality.
Universities have a chance to act as models and to be exemplary through their management for the entire society. It is worth keeping in mind the time after the exceptional circumstances, so that returning to business as usual would happen without a hitch. Demands tend to grow when the pressure is high, but special circumstances are true to their name: they also need to be dissolved, even though the lessons learned should not be lost.
Members of the university community do work that is absolutely necessary for the success of the nation: we educate doctors, lawyers, Masters of Science in engineering, leaders, teachers and the builders of future innovations, that is, researchers. This work enables success; it also guarantees general knowledge and functions as a foundation.
According to the Science Barometer, universities are trusted, our institution is credible and valued, and yet we work in temporary fixed-term jobs and our salaries do not match our levels of education. And in addition, lately we have been targeted with harsh talk, which does not encourage sharing research knowledge to help society. If research knowledge is not trusted, opinions win. If researchers are not trusted, people do not participate in our projects. The coronavirus cannot be counteracted with opinions or even clever reflection, the only way is research; for that we need collaboration and respect for research knowledge.
The Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers has now toured almost every university. Throughout this university tour I have gotten a clear picture of how multidisciplinary, effective and high quality work members of the university community do. That is the exact foundation that will get us through everything – together and with trust in each other.
Wishing you good health from quarantine.
Maija S. Peltola
Professor, President of The Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers
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