The Name of the Year in Academia – Norwegian Edition

Just before the Christmas holiday break, my dear friend Veronika CH pointed me to the news about the winner of the ‘Name of the Year in Academia’ award handed out by the university newspaper Khrono. While many have already written at length in response to this ‘debate’, I want to contribute by writing something in English so that more people whom the debate is actually about might be able to follow along and contribute. I am doing this on my personal blog because this post will reflect my personal opinion and I don’t necessarily want to give Khrono even more clicks and views on this.

So what happened?

The national newspaper of universities in Norway, Khrono, is no stranger to posting controversial opinion pieces. It is generally also where I get my news on what’s happening in Norwegian academia, for example, on the ridiculous two sensor rule. Earlier this year though, they posted something which was straight up inflammatory. I am going to do my best to translate what Cecilie Hellestveit wrote:

The debate starter piece published 24-09-2021 in Khrono

“Cecilie Hellestveit thinks one aspect with this theme is that more and more positions in academia go to foreign researchers. It has been that way for a while and Hellestveit thinks it is problematic.”

The foreign researchers do not know the Norwegian society and are not here to invest in it. They are here because they did not get a job at the most prestigious universities yet. Some fields are so dominated by foreign researchers that there are barely any Norwegians left among the employees. What is the point of research which not first and foremost has the Norwegian society as a starting point?”

– Cecilie Hellestveit

There is a lot to unpack here and this statement obviously attracted many responses, mainly speaking against such views. However, when was time for an all-Norwegian jury to pick the award winner for ‘Name of the Year in Academia’, it went to, drumroll, Cecilie Hellestveit. This again led to many responses, both on Twitter and as subsequent opinion pieces in Khrono. For example, Ingunn W. Jolma and Christian Jørgensen presented excellent opinion pieces in Khrono. Khrono summed up some of the Twitter responses here, both negative and positive. The editor added a piece of her own defending the situation.

My thoughts

I have always felt welcome and at home in Norway. My colleagues, no matter where they are originally from, have supported me and also my endeavors to learn Norwegian. I in fact feel so at home in Norway that I am not considering moving back to the Netherlands after over five years here. I pay taxes in Norway happily supporting the amazing health care system among other things. As I still feel Dutch at heart and the Netherlands does not allow for double passports, I do not want to give up my Dutch passport. This means that I do not get to vote in the national elections.

Still, I consider myself and my international colleagues contributing to research, advancing our science which may also impact Norwegian society, though it does not exclusively aim at that. It is not even true that I am only here because I was not able to get a job at a prestigious university. I think excellent research is done when joining forces with people with many different areas of expertise. Often, this involves collaborating with people outside of our backyard, though this not does preclude collaborating with people inside our backyard.

The statements by Cecilie Hellestveit are offensive to me. This can happen, she is expressing her opinion, just as I am now. I do not think this particular opinion is award-worthy and this is the part that is most hurtful to me. It makes me question how many in Norway hold these views and are applauding the awardee for finally speaking up about these parasitic foreigners taking our jobs, none of them with Norway’s best interests in mind, only here as proper prestigious universities would not take them.

ORW the boss explains that our branch is shutting down and we are all being  laid off. - GIF on Imgur

I feel personally attacked and sad for my foreign colleagues living here, sacrificing a lot to be here in the process. On a side note, I applied for the Academy of Young Scientists in Norway and got rejected. As the leader of this organization was on the jury for this award, I now start to second guess the reasons for this and wonder whether I perhaps wasn’t Norwegian enough to partake in this?

The main reason stated for Hellestveit being awarded is that it started an important debate on internationalization in Norwegian academia. However, when expressing your generalizing opinion about a group of people as a means of starting a debate, I think it is only fair to do so in a way where people who are the subject of said debate can participate actively. This can be achieved by doing this in a common language so that everyone can understand and respond if they wish. I hope this blog contributes a little in this regard.

I question Khrono’s motivation in all this. Are they so desperate for clicks that posting inflammatory personal opinions should be awarded to get even more engagement? I realize that this blog too adds more undeserved attention, but I really could not stop thinking about this, even in my Christmas holiday, and I thought writing might help.

To end on a positive note, I am grateful to all those who spoke up against this award process and the views it represents. You make me feel hopeful, respected, and welcome.

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