Uppsala University's leadership controversy

Three vice-rectors at Uppsala University in Sweden have been relieved of their duties following several months of strife over a reported lack of confidence in Rector Eva Akesson, who has been in the position since 1 January 2012.

Last September, the vice-rectors sent a short letter to the Ministry of Education and Research, which had appointed Akesson as the first female rector of Uppsala, calling for her removal "due to being unfit for the position".

They provided no argument in support of the claim, which was subsequently signed by eight of the university's deans.

Uppsala University's consistorium, a 15-member governing body constituting the institution's top leadership, has most of its members appointed by the ministry.

Carola Lemne, consistorium chair and one of Sweden's most powerful women - she is a board member of several large companies and was selected as CEO of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise last May - apparently did not inform Akesson about the vice-rectors' letter until last December.

At that point she reportedly offered Akesson Sweden's backing as a candidate for a top position in UNESCO, should she want it. Akesson declined, deciding rather to fight for her job.

The consistorium addressed conflict surrounding the rector in several meetings in January and February this year, during which the vice-rectors presented critiques of Akesson. The proceedings have not been published.

Even after these meetings, Akesson said she was not sure what the criticisms levelled against her were all about.

Things did not become clearer when one of the deans, Professor Jan Lindegren of the faculty of the humanities, published a four-page letter in which he tried to explain the conflict and why the 11 vice-rectors and deans had acted against the rector.

He claimed that the collaborative climate in the university had been eroded during her tenure. But he overstated his mission of clarification when, in rather non-academic wording, he reportedly said Akesson was managing the university by "scaring the shit out of many of her employees".

In late February, the consistorium held a final meeting on whether Akesson should be asked to leave or not. Two-thirds of the members voted for her to continue while five members cast blank votes.

Subsequently, there has been debate over whether university leaders selected by the ministry is an appropriate governance model, over the impossible workloads that confront the rectors of large Swedish universities, and whether universities have effective apparatus to handle such top-level conflicts.