Vice chancellor’s speech at the student banquet Luciabalen 2011-12-13

Mrs. Chairman of the Student Union, distinguished laureates, fellow knights of the order of the frog, ladies and gentlemen,

I have now been vice chancellor for eight years, but I have a background as a scientist, more precisely a biologist, and even more precisely a botanist. I became interested in this subject in school, in Realskolan, equivalent to Grundskolans högstadium.

I have to say that I did not like school very much and the summer holidays were for me the sacred time of the year. You can imagine the state of shock and panic I was thrown into when my biology teacher one day in May announced that those who aspired for a higher grade in biology were supposed to spend summer learning at least 100 species of wild plants. This was indeed the most alarming and evil attack on my summer holiday. 

However, in order to save most of the summer I decided to do away with and finish this awful piece of homework before midsummer. I set out already on the 1st of June, in 1962, a rainy Saturday, collected a bag of nasty weeds and proceeded to try and identify them using the proper handbook, or flora, and to my utter astonishment this actually worked. 

Something must have snapped inside my head. Searching for new species which I had not seen and could knock off in the flora became an adventure. By midsummer I had already learned the requested 100 plants and by the end of August I knew several hundred.  The question of my future profession was settled. I was to become a botanist.  

In June 1970 I was enrolled at the Department of Botany at Stockholm University.  The botany program started with floristik, or floristics, i.e. studies of the Swedish flora. The whole course was housed for no less than four whole weeks at Solbacka folkhögskola in Södermanland, from where we made daily trips by bicycle or minibusses to search for and study more than 700 species of plants. 

Two years later I was accepted for Ph.D. studies and employed as an assistant at the Department of Botany. One of my responsibilities was teaching at the summer courses in floristics. For some reason we could no longer be housed at Solbacka and were instead housed at Stensunds folkhögskola in another part of Södermanland

Unfortunately, Stensunds folkhögskola was owned by a national temperance organization, or nykterhets-organisation, and the student parties during the nights were not really appreciated by our host. I had at that time advanced to course leader and I have to confess I also participated in the parties. As a consequence we were no longer welcome the following year. 

Now the situation was serious. I decided to write a letter to the vice chancellor, professor Gunnar Hoppe, and explained that we no longer had proper accommodation for our summer course, omitting the details of how we had ended up in this situation. Several months later, without any solution in sight, I surprisingly received a telephone call from the secreterary of the vice chancellor. 

The message was: Would it be possible for Assistant Bremer to join the vice chancellor on a day trip to visit a suitable farm house in Södermanland? The good vice chancellor had forwarded my request to Byggnadsstyrelsen, the government authority which at that time provided localities for the universities, and it now offered this farm house for our floristics course. 

The housing problem was thus solved but there were other surprises. One autumn I received another telephone call, however much less palatable. It was a police superintendent who told me that I was reported for and faced possible prosecution for trespassing, illegal driving and illegal hunting. 

It turned out that I had entered a private forest trail with my car in our search for plants and the estate owner, who had experienced problems with illegal hunting in his forests, had seen my car and reported me to the police. I was of course stunned by this grave accusation but picked up courage and visited the estate owner. 

When he realized that we were hunting plants rather than mooses, he fortunately withdrew his police notification and upon my respectful request even provided us with another farm house that we could use as an extra base for our floristic excursions, and night parties, in the inner parts of Södermanland.

All estate owners were not equally benevolent. When we approached a baron with a humble request to visit his castle to search for wild plants, possibly some interesting weeds that may be found in old castle parks, his brusque response over the telephone was: Weeds? There are no weeds in my park, only well-kept lawns, and they have just been trimmed! Goodbye! The baron’s estate remains a white spot on the distribution maps of plants in Södermanland

Since the last Luciabal,  several important developments have taken place during 2011at Stockholm University. One thing especially worth noticing is that we have at last taken the first shovelful, or spadtag, for the new Student Union and Student Administration building, which will be a magnificient addition to the campus, just outside Lantis here and connected to building A in Södra Huset

The shovel ceremony was conducted by the vice chairman of the Student Union, Erik Arroy, and myself, using a real excavator, or grävmaskin. I trust that the new building will promote and develop our excellent cooperation between the student union and the university.

For me personally there are two outstanding items to remember. In April, Stockholms studentkårers centralorganisation SSCO bestowed upon me the distinction as Stockholms studentvän. In May, Stockholms universitets studentkår SUS appointed me honorary member of the student union. 

These glorious awards do not at all come automatically with the position as vice chancellor. I must have done something good, although I do not know exactly what, but I feel I have in all my years as vice chancellor enjoyed the best possible cooperation with the student organisations. I deeply appreciate both awards. May Al-Boujassam, Lina Glans, Gustav Kihlgård, Andrey Tibajev, Gardar Björnsson, Oscar Lavelid, and all your colleagues and fellow students: Thank you so much! 

Studies at Stockholm University are well worth the time and effort. It may very well lead to a successful future. I promise you. Just think of the following three guys with degrees from our university. Fredrik Reinfeldt, he studied politics at Stockholm University. Or Anders Borg, he studied economics. Or Tomas Tranströmer, he studied poetry at Stockholm University. It pays to study here. I trust you all will be equally successful. Skål för Stockholms universitet!