Vice chancellor’s speech at the student banquet Luciabalen 2012-12-13

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

Nearly 10 years ago I received a letter from Stockholm University to my home address in Uppsala where I lived and worked at that time. The letter explained that I had been nominated by a student for the position as vice chancellor of Stockholm University. The search committee for finding a new vice chancellor now wished to know if I was interested in being interviewed for the position.

I of course found this invitation extraordinarily flattering and most interesting, and accepted without hesitation. The search committee worked very thoroughly. I was interviewed for several hours in total, not only by the search committee but also by the various unions of the employees and the students and by the university board.   

The search committee had even hired a psychologist who subjected me to several tests, the purpose of which was to make sure that I did not hide any mental peculiarities or deficiencies. I successfully managed to hide these peculiarities and deficiencies, however, and was finally approved by the employees, students and the university board.

Nine years have passed and it is time to look back on some important changes and developments at Stockholm University, all of them not necessarily introduced by myself but all of them completed with engagement and support by the students of Stockholm University.

These developments include, for example, the establishment of the Bologna model in Swedish higher education, the transfer of teacher education from Lärarhögskolan to Stockholm University, and the removal of compulsory membership in the student unions.

The introduction of the Bologna model and a new grading system was planned by a central working group established in 2004 where students played a very decisive role.

Next week we are moving the last remaining department of teacher education from Konradsberg to Frescati and next year the integration of teacher education into Stockholm University is organizationally fully completed.

After the removal of compulsory membership in the student unions the future of SUS, the student union of Stockholm University, was threatened, and indeed also organization of student influence and student participation in the activities of the university. Through efforts by Gardar Björnsson and Andrey Tibajev we worked out an agreement between SUS and the university, and I am very pleased to note that 2/3 of all students now have joined and pay their fees to SUS.

The support of the students and SUS has been particularly important in all these reforms, and I would like to express my sincere thanks to all the chairs of SUS during my period as vice chancellor, and to their staff, i.e. to Livija Ginters, May Al-Boujassam, Gustaf Kihlgård, Andrey Tibajev, Gardar Björnsson, Lotta Karlsmark, Edith Ringmar, Mia Sand, Johan Klange and Christian Camitz. Thank you!

Making Stockholm University more international has always been my top priority. I am therefore always pleased to see some Nobel laureate present at this occasion and at other events at Stockholm University during this week and the past week.

We have five laureates at Stockholm University, four nobel prizes in chemistry and one economics prize to the memory of Alfred Nobel. Svante Arrhenius received the prize in 1903, Hans von Euler in 1929, George de Hevesy in 1943, Gunnar Myrdal in 1974 and Paul Crutzen in 1995. As I already observed when I talked about this two years ago, these five prices have come with fairly regular intervals.

The intervals are 23 + 9 years and the latest prize to Paul Crutzen was in 1995, notably for his Ph.D. work at Stockholm University, so the next prize is scheduled – I hope – to be delivered to us in 2018 plusminus 9 years. Hence 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!

In my efforts to make Stockholm University more international, for example by attracting more international students, I have visited many other countries and many other universities. These visits have involved many formal ceremonies and dinners. I have learnt a lot myself at these occasions. About Chinese food, to take one example, which I would like to share with you, as a warning to what you may encounter.

In China you are commonly seated around a circular table and continuously served new dishes. The guest of honour, in this particular example myself, is served first and the other participants are interestingly waiting to see the guest’s reactions to the various delicacies.

One of the chicken dishes I was served was almost impossible to chew. I concluded that it consisted of cartilage, brosk, rather than meat, presumably by mistake, and I stopped eating. However, there was apparently nothing wrong with the dish since my host asked, Don’t you eat the soft bones of the chicken?

A couple of dishes later a pastry appeared on my plate. This pastry also proved almost impossible to chew. However, this time I was not going to give up! I chewed energetically on the pastry and eventually I succeeded in swallowing it completely.

My hosts around the table looked interestingly and politely on this endeavor from my side, and then started on their own pastries, however first carefully removing from each pastry the enclosing cup made of cardboard.  

My wife’s comment to this is that similar things happen to me all the time. It is one of the deficiencies the psychologist failed to detect.

On February 1st I will resign from my position as vice chancellor. I will become a regular professor at Stockholm University, I have plans for some writing particularly within my old field of botany and I have also accepted some commissions from the Swedish Research Council and the Wallenberg foundations.

This is indeed my absolutely last speech as vice chancellor of Stockholm University. I would like to express my warmest thanks to all students, teachers, scientists and staff for giving me the opportunity to serve as vice chancellor for the past nine years, which has been the most fantastic and wonderful  period in my whole professional life.

Farväl och Skål!