Vice chancellor’s speech at the student banquet Luciabalen 2010-12-13

Mr Chairman, laureates, ladies and gentlemen, 

My first encounter with Stockholm University was in the famous year of international student rebellion 1968, with protests also at Stockholm University culminating in the occupation of the student union offices at Holländargatan. At that time Stockholm University was not located here but in Vasastaden in the city centre. This building was still a museum for plows, harrows, shovels and other agricultural equipment. There was no sign of the coming university, Södra Huset, the six blue buildings, was not even planned. 

In 1968 when I had left school I was like all other young Swedish males required to do at least one year of military services. During the Cold War it was almost impossible to escape the military service. I expressed my interest for the marine forces in the Stockholm archipelago and was promptly assigned one year in the infantry in Lapland. Facing the prospect of spending a year marching in the snow of Lapland I desperately exaggerated a number of physical deficiencies like back pain and nearsightedness, and luckily was reassigned to military office services in Stockholm. 

After three initial months of marching, shooting and crawling during summer 1968 at the military training grounds where Kista and DSV, our Department of Computer and Systems Sciences, are now located, I was assigned together with 20 other young guys to Försvarets Brevskola, an institution that produced education material for the armed forces. 

The captain in command had contacts with the Department of Education, Pedagogiska institutionen, at Stockholm University and he made arrangements so that we could follow the courses for 30 points, or 1 betyg as it was called then, in education studies or pedagogik. The students at that time, in 1968, especially at the Faculty of Social Sciences and not least in the Department of Education, were very much politically left wing and pacifist-oriented. They looked upon me and my companions in horror and disgust when we appeared in the lecture rooms in our military uniforms. 

Our captain at Försvarets Brevskola had also arranged for us to follow the Stockholm University lectures in education studies for the military cadets, i.e. those young guys who had enrolled voluntarily and intended a professional career as future officers. These lectures were held at Karlberg, the castle where future military officers are trained. The military students at Karlberg were very much politically right wing and not at all like the students at the University. They also looked upon us in horror and disgust, but from a different angle, when we appeared at Karlberg, in uniforms ok, but in uniforms without any insignia – gradbeteckningar – whatsoever, clearly signalling that we belonged to an inferior species. After the first lecture and some improper and not well-received questions from our group, we were ordered take our seats in the far back of the lecture room and forbidden to ask any further questions. 

Nevertheless, we successfully completed our studies, quickly acquired our 30 points, and continued with other studies in statistics, sociology and other subjects. The real work we were supposed to do, producing education material for the armed forces, was as you can imagine not heavily prioritized and not very demanding. 

Things were different in the 1960s, but one institution was the same – CSN. We did not know, and I still do not know, if you were entitled to study grants – studiemedel – from CSN while doing military service. But we were registered and had completed our points at Stockholm University, so we applied for the study grants without saying anything about our military activities, and received the grants. 

Since housing and other necessities were provided by the armed forces, we were now in rather favorable economic circumstances – I am sure  much more favorable than for the average student today. Rather than going to the dull military canteen, our lunches and dinners were instead usually enjoyed at various Stockholm restaurants. When our year of military services came to an end, we had consequently acquired a substantial knowledge of Stockholm restaurants, especially in Vasastaden around the Stockholm University premises. 

With this knowledge, why not write a guide to Stockholm restaurants? Four of us decided to do so, and now in retrospect I believe it is the only solid remaining achievement from my year of military services at Försvarets Brevskola and my first year at Stockholm University. The guide is still in production, now in its 42nd edition. You can buy it at well-stocked book stores like Hedengrens and NK

After this first year I entered the natural sciences, acquired my Ph.D. at Stockholm University in 1976, spent 10 year as a museum curator and 15 years as professor at a smaller university located about 80 km N of Stockholm, and then returned to my Alma Mater as vice chancellor six years ago. 

I love my job. Presently we are working on making Stockholm University an even more international university. You are all familiar with the international ranking lists especially those from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and the Times Higher Education Supplement. They do not say much about the quality of individual subjects but receive much attention from politicians, the public, and students, and very much so internationally. They cannot be ignored. 

One indicator used is the number of nobel laureates. We have five laureates at Stockholm Unniversity, four nobel prizes in chemistry and one economics prize to the memory of Alfred Nobel. Svante Arrhenius received the prize in 1903 for his electrolytical dissociation theory. Hans von Euler received the prize in 1929 for research on transformation of a sugar solution into alcohol. George de Hevesy received the prize in 1943 for using isotopes to trace chemical reactions in the body. Gunnar Myrdal received the economics prize in 1974 for studies on interdependence of economic, social and institutional phenomena. Paul Crutzen received the prize in 1995 for his work on formation and decomposition of ozone in the atmosphere. 

If you have taken down notes on the years when these five prices were awarded you can see that they have come with fairly regular intervals. The intervals are 23 + 9 years and the latest prize to Paul Crutzen was in 1995 so the next prize is scheduled – I hope – to be delivered to us between 2009 and 2027. Nothing happened last year and this year but I look forward to coming prize announcements. As you know, I expect you to fix this. Tonight is time for celebration but tomorrow it is time for you to start working on your future nobel-prize winning research! 

Two of my distinguished predecessors as vice chancellor are here tonight, professor Staffan Helmfrid and professor Gustaf Lindencrona. I asked professor Helmfrid, what did you talk about at Luciabalen? Well, he said, there was always some wickedness in the student union magazine Gaudeamus that I could comment. 

The problem is, I do not find much. I enjoy the best possible cooperation with SUS, Stockholms universitets studentkår, and its chairman and deputy chairman, Gustav Kihlgård and Filip Solsjö.  In the latest issue of Gaudeamus Gustav even wrote a column about my own favourite idea: Make Stockholm University, Karolinska institutet and KTH a single university! Topprankning om tre lärosäten går samman Gustav writes. Yes, if we were a one university, it would be ranked among the top 25 in the world according to the Shanghai list I just mentioned. Thank you Gustav for supporting this idea. I believe such a reform would be fantastic for Sweden, Stockholm and the students at our universities. 

Before I end this talk, I must come back to where I started, the Department of Education, Pedagogiska institutionen or Peddan. My glimpses from Pedagogiska institutionen during the 1960s and my first encounter with Stockholm University really do not give proper credit to this department. Today it has grown to become one of our biggest and most important departments. We have taken over school teacher education from Lärarhögskolan and this education is now being integrated into the various departments of Stockholm University. Next year a substantial part of the teacher education will move from Konradsberg to Pedagogiska institutionen. I have not seen the figures on economic turnover and student numbers yet, but it may well be that Pedagogiska institutionen then will assume the top position as our biggest deparment. 

Cheers to the future of Peddan, all other departments at Stockholm University, and future nobel prizes and successes for our University!