Humanities students demonstrate against further cuts

Queen Margrethe II of Denmark and the other guests arriving for the annual commemoration ceremony at the University of Copenhagen recently were met by protesting humanities students lying down on the pavement, symbolically attending the funeral of academic fields threatened by the merging of teaching.

Some of the students entered the space in front of the main building in lines with white masks turned upwards towards the sky, Universitetsavisen reported.

Humanities student Maria Knudsen threw red roses over the students lying on the pavement while Chopin’s Marche Funèbre was played on loudspeakers.

Confused guests saw signs in different languages carried by some of the students, with Spanish on one, Classical Greek on another and Latin on a third.

Blocking access

The demonstration was a part of an ongoing protest in which faculty of humanities students had for 10 days blocked the access of senior humanities staff to their faculty offices.

The students were angry because they regard the faculty strategy document for 2020-23 as an attack on the humanities, since it says that the study programmes “are going to increase students’ experiences with cross-scientific studies and hence build up an individualistic competence profile by removing structural barriers and increasing education cooperation”.

Once translated into reality, the students claim, this will mean a merger of courses in smaller humanities subjects, reducing the number of hours taught per week from the present 12 or more.

Adjustments possible

Jens Erik Mogensen, associate dean at the faculty, said that the faculty leadership is willing to work with the students to adjust the wording of the structural plan. He confirmed that they are looking at ways to increase recruitment to the smaller humanities subjects.

“We cannot afford to have the minor fields of studies with only a handful of students. It is difficult to run these economically, and it is also difficult to create a good learning environment,” he said.

During the annual commemoration, student of religious sciences Harald Toksværd took the floor uninvited and spoke on behalf of the occupying students.

“The last time the students conquered the floor [at the annual commemoration] was in 1968. The professor mafia of 1968 is now substituted by a dean and rector mafia,” he said.

“While you are sitting here with champagne in your robes and chains, we are fighting for our education. And we will not be ignored.”

He added that “Copenhagen humanities students are tired of being silenced. We are not accepting your deterioration [of our studies] and your messy New Public Management. You will have your offices back when you are ready to talk as adults.”

Staff support

Meanwhile, Anders Døssing of the department of chemistry wrote a commentary article in Universitetsavisen in support of the students, comparing the faculty leadership to “sleepwalkers while the core academic fields are being slaughtered”.

“It has been sad to witness the de-routing of the languages over recent years at the humanities faculty. Look at Finnish and modern Icelandic – non-existent today. One has to ask: Is there no academic pride, no self-respect at that faculty? They are behaving like beaten dogs,” he said.