Copenhagen humanities jobs axed for third time in eight years

The faculty of humanities at Denmark’s University of Copenhagen will lose 48 staff members in order to meet budget deficits. It is the third time since 2011 that the faculty has axed staff.

Forskerforum, the Danish researchers’ magazine, reported that the humanities faculty was laying off 11 staff members. Another 24 have voluntarily agreed to leave their positions, 13 positions will not be filled after vacancies, and five people will have reduced positions.

In 2011, 35 full-time positions were axed at the University of Copenhagen, while 86 positions were lost in 2016.

Overall the university has reduced its number of employees by 700 since 2015, mainly because of a 2% cut by government to the budget allocations to public institutions.

Classical Greek and Latin in danger

Kristian Purreskov and Anna Rasmussen, students at the University of Copenhagen’s Saxo Institute, which is responsible for teaching Classical Greek and Latin, in an op ed article in Universitetsavisen, described the axing of staff as “active death assistance” for those subjects.

The layoffs particularly hit Classical Greek and Latin, they wrote. Latin had lost two out of three lecturers. “Last time, in 2016, admission of new students to Classical Greek was temporarily closed down.

“Latin and Greek were and still are at the core of the faculty of humanities,” Purreskov and Rasmussen argued. It appeared that the objective of the university’s plan was to “actively assist in the death of Latin” while at the same time “cutting off the very roots of the university – not only for its own history but also for a central part of the common European cultural history”.

Dean of the humanities faculty, Jesper Kallestrup, told Magisterbladet on 9 May that the faculty was now looking at whether to offer teaching in the subjects of Greek and Latin, or group the two subjects together.

Purreskov and Rasmussen responded to this by saying that teaching had already been complicated by new bachelor students learning together with graduate students who had nearly completed their studies, and with some studying Latin and others doing ancient studies. It was an unreasonable and thankless task for the lecturer to teach different subjects at the same time.

“We are really worrying for the future,” they said.

Jesper Langergaard, director of Universities Denmark – the Danish rectors’ conference – told University World News: “It is frustrating that the government for years has cut back the university sector.”

He pointed out that national elections were being held on 5 June and there were now many who wanted to stop the cuts. “We hope the politicians keep to what they promise after the election.”

Professor Emeritus at Copenhagen Business School, Robert Phillipson, said that “savaging the humanities like this” would destroy the chance of those subjects to retain or develop the critical mass needed to be attractive to both staff and students.

“That the oldest and biggest humanities faculty in the country can do without Greek and Latin (in a Lutheran country), and probably English as the only substantial foreign language, is, in my view, criminally short-sighted,” Phillipson told University World News.