When new teaching staff were recruited, Umeå School of Architecture was reported to UKÄ for an infringement of the regulations governing employment conditions. According to the Dean, Åsa Rasmusson-Lestander, the rapid recruitment process was an emergency measure to ensure students would continue to receive proper teaching.

Umeå School of Architecture.
Umeå School of Architecture.

Umeå School of Architecture has been beset by complex workplace problems for many years. Since Ana Betancour took over as Rector in November 2014 reports have proliferated in the media, from both teachers and students, of a further escalation in the crisis resulting in in long-term sick leave, a lower quality of education and mental health problems in students. In order to deal with the shortages in teaching staff the Rector recruited several new lecturers. In May Sveriges universitetslärarförbund (Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers), SULF, referred this recruitment procedure to Universitetskanslersämbetet (Swedish Higher Education Authority], UKÄ, where the Umeå School of Architecture was accused of breaking the university’s own rules and a breach of the employment regulations.

Under the Swedish Constitution Act and Civil Service Act skills and experience must always be considered in the appointment of a new lecturer. In its complaint SULF considers that this fundamental principle was lacking in this case, which is a breach of the university’s rules of procedure. According to SULF’s report many of the lecturers also lack the appropriate skills for conferring the architecture degree. But according to Åsa Rasmusson-Lestander, Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology, this is not the case.
– The lecturers have not been recruited but have been brought in through various cooperation arrangements, for example with the Interactive Institute, they are architects and their professional skills have been assessed by experts. We don’t just have external lecturers, but obviously also permanent lecturers who possess the skills required to confer the degree.

Åsa Rasmuson-Lestander also thinks that it was essential for the Umeå School of Architecture to act quickly to resolve the teaching issue without advertising the jobs to the public.
– For us the students must always come first and we were forced to take emergency measures to ensure that they receive a proper standard of education. Advertising new jobs takes too long and in the circumstances would have meant students being without lecturers on some courses.

At the time of Vertex going to press SULF’s complaint was still being considered and a decision on this is expected later in the autumn.

Another two complaints were lodged with the UKÄ by two masters students during the spring term. The first complaint was made in February by a student who decided to leave the Umeå School of Architecture in September of last year. The email describes the situation as a civil war between management and lecturers. The student writes that stress, uncertainty and lack of governance has thrown his mental health off balance and that the situation made it impossible to work properly. ”It’s not in my nature to think of education as a service to be bought, but financial compensation is the only thing I can think of that would feel good in the current situation”, writes the student. This case has still not been finally concluded.

In March another student reported the Umeå School of Architecture to the UKÄ for prolonged mismanagement of the masters programme. The student feels that a tool should be developed to prevent similar crises happening again. In his complaint he describes how the situation did not improve when the new rector, Ana Betancour, took over, but on the contrary, it deteriorated. UKÄ decided not to investigate the matter as it did not fall within the scope of their regulatory oversight. Instead the student was referred to the Swedish Work Environment Authority but no complaint concerning the Umeå School of Architecture was made.

As part of the project for change consultants were involved in reviewing the working conditions at the Umeå School of Architecture during the spring term. Before the 2016-17 academic year four supply posts and five permanent teaching jobs were advertised. According to Åsa Rasmuson-Lestander the atmosphere at the Umeå School of Architecture has improved considerably during the spring and she claims that the students have also noticed the improvements in the working environment and are more satisfied with their education. Vertex has searched students to comment this.

Vendela Wikström

Note: The article will be published in Swedish
in Vertex #6-2016, which appears 6 september.