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Published: 2023-01-23 Updated: 2023-01-27, 11:41

Proposal: Two significant changes to work environment and equal opportunities

NEWS A new overarching council for both work environment and equal opportunities, and a plan to strengthen the student perspective. Those are the two most extensive proposals for improvement that Ulrika Haake have suggested in her inquiry of Umeå University’s work environment and equal opportunities organisation. On 2 February, she will present the report in more detail to students and staff in the Humanities Building.

Text: Johanna Fredriksson

One of the 32 proposals external reviewer Karin Röding suggested in her 2022 investigation of Umeå University's handling of misconduct was to take an in-depth look at the University's work environment and equal opportunities organisation. The Vice-Chancellor decided to appoint Ulrika Haake for this inquiry and for proposing how the work environment and equal opportunities work could best be organised on all levels of the organisation.

Ulrika Haake is professor of teaching and learning at Umeå University and director of the Umeå School of Sport Sciences. She also has a long resumé containing assignments and research relating to leadership and HR issues.
In her inquiry, she has interviewed around fifty individuals who currently, and in some way, work with or are involved in work environment and equal opportunities activities at Umeå University. She has considered relevant legislation and agreements and has studied how other universities are organised.
"A large number of people have had the opportunity to voice their opinion in these issues," says Ulrika Haake.

Equal opportunities issues and work environment issues have been managed as two separate entities.

Everyone she has interviewed has welcomed this review, and the proposals she makes are largely based on comments and ideas from interviewees.
"One reported problem with the current organisation is that equal opportunities issues and work environment issues have been managed as two separate entities," she says, describing them as two isolated silos.
Challenges in the organisation have particularly concerned equal opportunities.
"The silos are also very limited as a consequence of the communication between various levels of the organisation being inadequate. Department level staff have not understood what happens at faculty level, and so on," she continues.
There are also uncertainties regarding mandates, roles and responsibilities at various levels in the equal opportunities organisation. Some have specified that the Strategic Council for Equal Opportunities is anonymous and that the boundaries to the Work Environment Committee are unclear.

Students have been neglected

Another big issue is that the student perspective tends to be neglected. Students are represented in the current organisation, but it is up to them to highlight perspectives relevant to them.
"This is a problem. As an education provider, we have a responsibility for our students' work environment and equal opportunities. Responsibility cannot lie purely on the students. We must also contribute and support them," says Ulrika Haake, highlighting that student representatives also tend to be replaced often, resulting in a loss of knowledge and continuity.
Ulrika Haake has produced a report with a number of proposals for how to improve the equal opportunities and work environment organisation. These proposals contain two changes of more considerable proportion.
"One proposal is a new overarching council in which both work environment and equal opportunities issues are covered enabling a catch-all approach and limiting the sense of dealing with freestanding silos," says Ulrika Haake.

To make proper change, the highest university- and faculty-level managements must demonstrate the importance of these issues.

This council would be a university-wide strategic council in which long-term and preventive work environment and equal opportunities issues can be discussed, and in which goals and strategies for the University can be drawn up. Members of the council would comprise deans, the Human Resources Director and the chair of the Work Environment Committee, among others. The council would be led by the Vice-Chancellor and would not be a decision-making body, but would instead act advisory before Vice-Chancellor's and University Board decisions.
"Nearly all interviewees have mentioned that to make proper change, the highest university- and faculty-level managements must demonstrate the importance of these issues, participate in conversations and set the tone of Umeå University's approach to work environment and equal opportunities."
Consequently, Ulrika Haake also proposes that one of the vice-chancellors should have work environment and equal opportunities as a special responsibility. After Heidi Hansson left office as Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor Hans Adolfsson has decided to take the reins himself.

New committee to see the light of day

The other more significant proposal is to strengthen the student perspective. This could be achieved by setting up a new committee, which Ulrika Haake chooses to call 'the Sustainable Study Life Committee' and which would replace the current student social welfare group. Another proposal is to employ a work environment and equal opportunities coordinator for students at the Student Services Office. This person would also act as a representative in the university-wide council for work environment and equal opportunities.
"By having such a committee, a person employed to safeguard these issues, and a reinforcement at the Student Health Services, I believe Umeå University could make some necessary improvements from an education provider perspective," says Ulrika Haake.
The current Work Environment Committee would be a committee under the new council for work environment and equal opportunities.
The report suggests an establishment of work environment and equal opportunities groups on faculty and departmental level, and that the dean (or deputy or associate deans) should constitute the link between departments and the university-wide council.

Listen to a presentation

The above-mentioned proposals are just some of the proposals mentioned in the report, which the Vice-Chancellor has now received. The report will act advisory in the University Management's continued work to create a safer place to work and study. The report is also available for everyone to read, in Swedish and English.

Read the report: Inquiry concerning the organisation of work environment and equal opportunities activities at Umeå University

On 2 February, all students and employees are invited to listen to Ulrika Haake's presentation of her report. This presentation takes place in Vardagsrummet in the Humanities Building on Campus Umeå. This session will provide an opportunity to hear about the proposals in more detail, provide feedback and ask questions. A presentation in Swedish will be held from 13:00–14:00 in the presence of the Vice-Chancellor who also welcomes questions. A presentation in English will be held from 15:00–16:00.

You can also follow the event online on live.umu.se