Candidates` answers for the written questions. Margit Sutrop
Dean candidate in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities Professor Margit Sutrop answers questions by the university family
Should the university have areas of priority or priorities in all areas, i.e. how would you associate the universitas principle with targeting the university’s development?
Margit Sutrop: If the asker wants to know whether one of the four future faculties could be a bigger priority than others then the answer is definitely no.
The university as universitas cannot operate like the Orwell’s animal farm where everyone is equal but some are more equal than others. The basic principles of the university’s work should be that all four faculties are equally relevant and their sustainable development is important. With this I do not mean that equal treatment means supporting everyone the same way because this does not consider the different needs and features of the faculties. As a nurturing mother, the alma mater should take care of all her children but have more knowledge of what one or the other child needs to blossom. The same principle should be followed within the faculty.
The worst thing about financing is when the bases of distribution are constantly changed. This makes the stronger ones believe that by using the principles in their advantage they can pull off the blanket from others and the weaker ones believe that they need to constantly fight for survival but the ways to do it are changing all the time. As a result, everyone’s running in one direction today and in another tomorrow. Everyone feels they are the ones persecuted and there is a constant war between everyone. The transition to faculties provides a good opportunity to thoroughly discuss the principles of financing. I hope time is devoted to this and an agreement is reached which will stand for a longer time and increase trust and transparency. Financing principles should guarantee the sustainable development of all four faculties while motivating people to try even harder. Operating grants should be distributed so that the actual cost of curricula is taken into account and, according to the universitas principle, it supports interdisciplinary studies, not only teaching own students.
I think that management remuneration should not be related to the university’s average salary but the average salary of the faculty with the lowest salaries. This would motivate everyone to help the weaker ones and find solutions to the problems.
There is room for improvement regarding the scope of the university’s entrepreneurial agreements. As dean, would you feel the need and responsibility and if yes, what would you do and how would you motivate your employees to increase cooperation with enterprises?
Margit Sutrop: I think there are no quick solutions. We should change not only the attitude of the university’s people but also the entrepreneurs’. But attitudes do not change overnight. Entrepreneurs know too little of what the humanities do and what kind of knowledge we are gathering and creating. So the first step would be to get to know each other’s worlds: we should notify business people of our activities more and at the same time have more interest in what is happening outside the academic world.
In a broader sense, this is a question of how to better adjust studies to the needs of the labour market. Viljandi Culture Academy has introduced entrepreneurial studies in all curricula. We can learn from their experience. We have taken the first steps in the Faculty of Philosophy by adding more practical training to the curricula, involving practicians in teaching and launching the practical training community project. To our new structural unit—College of Foreign Languages and Cultures—I have invited Toomas Tamsar, chair of the Estonian Employers’ Confederation and Jane Väli, head of the Tartu Unemployment Insurance Fund who have already given us a lot of useful advice and planned joint activities. I think that not only in the University of Tartu but in all of Estonia the key to developing entrepreneurship is in developing an entrepreneurial attitude. In studies we should focus more on forming general competence, developing creativity, entrepreneurial ability, cooperation skills, critical thinking and the ability to solve problems.
What are the challenges for humaniora in the coming 5/25 years within the university?
Margit Sutrop: The main challenges are reforming the curricula, decreasing the number of those who do not finish their studies, increasing the efficiency of doctoral studies, increasing practical training in bachelor’s and master’s curricula, developing the digital humanities module.
Humaniora is in a difficult situation due to the precept of the Ministry of Education and Research that bachelor’s level curricula must have at least 15 students and master’s level curricula at least 10. I think the spell of numbers must be broken. Even in the deep Soviet times it was possible to offer students the possibility to specialize in minor specialisations. The question is how to maintain this possibility in independent Estonia which unfortunately tends to value economic profit above education. Before the universities’ performance agreements came into force, the state supported smaller specialisations and accepted that there are specialisations where we need to train a small number of experts. Of course we need to take into account that several specialisations of the humanities are also taught at Tallinn University. If neither of the universities has enough students or good lecturers then it would be reasonable to join forces.
With several specialisations the University of Tartu has sole responsibility which means that if the University of Tartu closes the specialisation it is not taught anywhere in Estonia. When Estonia regained independence, several specialisations were opened at the University of Tartu which had not been taught during Soviet times—for example, theology and classical philology. In addition, Scandinavian languages and cultures, romance studies, painting, philosophy and semantics were now separate curricula. A lot of work has been done since the 1990s to (re)open and build these specialisations and so decisions regarding the future of the specialisations cannot be done without thorough consideration and having in mind only the current state. In specialisations which have strong research potential, the small number of students could be compensated with research projects. Where there are no students and no research, some more radical changes have to be made.
The biggest challenge for research is how to ensure the sustainable development of crucial research areas. Research should not be only project-based, basic financing should also be increased. We should apply for international grants a lot more.
The long-term challenge for humaniora is how to ensure the financial sustainability of institutes and colleges and guarantee a decent pay for all employees. At a time where a school teacher will be earning more than the teacher’s teacher, a young lecturer and researcher with a PhD, it is difficult to motivate young people to choose the academic career. This is partly due to the underfinancing of higher education and research in all of Estonia but it is also because our faculty’s budget is smaller than the others’ and our salaries are the lowest in the university.
What kind of options do you see for the common elements of humaniora and socialia? What kind of options do you see for the common elements of humaniora and realia?
Margit Sutrop: The humanities have several topics common with social sciences as well as natural and medical sciences. In ethics we cooperate with doctors, biologists, exact scientists, lawyers, psychologists, pedagogues, communication researchers and economists, social and political scientists. Archaeologists work together with geologists, linguists have several mutual projects with computer scientists. In studies, cooperation is definitely possible in teacher training, ethics and digital society.
I think that in studies we should also create more options for interdisciplinary education. Students should be able to choose a second major specialisation or a minor specialisation, from another structural unit in their faculty or from another faculty. For example, those who study languages could benefit from studying economics or communication. International relations students need to know languages and culture or history. There is no better way to enhance the creativity of IT students than learning by arts, philosophy or cultural science. And this should not be limited to only subjects taught in Tartu, I am sure that the traditional culture courses taught in Viljandi Culture Academy would be accessible to many Tartu students if the logistics of students and study work would be better planned. Those who have studied several specialisations and combined a unique package of education have advantages in the labour market. We should identify the obstacles in the university which make this combining difficult or even impossible. I think that it should be possible to choose several specialisations already upon admission to the university.
What do you think about developing digital humanities as a specialisation at the University of Tartu? Should the Faculty of Natural and Exact Sciences (which includes representatives of all kinds of ‘digital’ parties) contribute resources to the development of digital humanities at UT? Also, should digital humanities as a specialty belong in the humanities or exact sciences?
Margit Sutrop: In the ASTRA application, digital humanities was set out as one of the new directions of the humaniora which should receive support and it could include historians, archaeologists, ethnologists, folklorist, linguists and literature scholars, philosophers and semioticians. I am an advocate of interdisciplinary cooperation and digital humanities is an area where the humanities and IT could cooperate. The Faculty of Natural and Exact Sciences could help increase the information technology competence of the humanities and demonstrate the possibilities of using IT in humanities. Meanwhile, the development of digital humanities at UT depends on how much the humanitarians themselves believe that they should use IT tools to answer their research questions, e.g. when analysing and processing extensive textual data or implementing geoinformation systems, digital archiving, image, sound and video processing and identification etc.
What is your strategic vision regarding the development of studies in English in your sphere of responsibility?
Margit Sutrop: The bachelor’s level in the national university should offer the chance to study all specialisations in Estonian. With national sciences we have the responsibility of maintaining Estonian studies on all study levels. English studies could be considered firstly for master’s and doctoral studies. English curricula should be opened on specialisations where we have strong research potential and readiness to teach in a foreign language.
The Faculty of Philosophy has great experience with two English master’s level curricula and preparations are being done for another one. The master’s curricula of semiotics in English is very popular, it has brought hundreds of interested students to Tartu who become our ambassadors in the world. For years there were not enough students in philosophy but opening an English master’s programme increased the Estonian students’ interest in continuing in master’s studies. I think that if we create an international environment in degree studies, whether by international lecturers, international students or studies in a foreign language, then in the end it helps to keep Estonian young people in their home country. Studying in Tartu becomes more interesting because students get the experience of international communication and good language skills at home while maintaining their mother tongue and national culture and society by living and working in an environment of their own language.
If degree studies are increasingly done in English we must make sure that Estonian students learn Estonian professional terminology and know how to write and talk of their work in good Estonian. I think all doctoral students should be required to write one popular scientific article a year and give a presentation in their mother tongue.
As the only candidate, could you explain why you are the only candidate?
Margit Sutrop: Managing the area of humaniora is difficult so it is no wonder that there are not many willing to take up this position. Another candidate was actually nominated but they withdrew their candidacy. On the one hand I am happy to see that six collectives nominated me, giving me the mandate to complete the reforms started in the Faculty of Philosophy. On the other hand, there is less tension in the elections and people might give less thought to different options.
What are the three most important management principles that you follow in working with people?
Margit Sutrop: Managing for me means serving people. As a leader my task is first and foremost to create work conditions for people: acquiring finances, designing the work space but at the same time setting new goals and motivating people. I think it is important for every organisation to be oriented to development, to cooperate and be flexible. I try to make sure that each person gets assigned the tasks that are suitable for them and which they like doing, that people cooperate and receive help if necessary.
I am an optimist and a fighter and I believe all problems can be solved. I like to dream big, make plans and discuss what to do with people. My colleagues know that these discussions usually end with deciding to do two or three things instead of one. Also, previous experience has shown that we always do these things!
According to a poll by CV Keskus, the University of Tartu is one of the most reputable employers in Estonia. How do you as head of the faculty intend to contribute to the formation of the university’s reputation as an employer so that the university would still be highly valued?
Margit Sutrop: The best way to create a reputation is if the people who work at the university are happy. Estonia is so small, everyone knows everyone and information travels by word of mouth. No branding can help if people you know are talking about how the salaries are low, work is exhausting and colleagues are mean. It is demotivating if people do not receive enough feedback to their work, if problems pile up or their efforts go unnoticed. Therefore, we need to increase salaries, create a friendly and collegial work atmosphere, make the people feel that the university cares about them, values their efforts and dedication and supports their development.
One of the messages from the university’s work environment survey is that the average work satisfaction index is high but many respondents think that there is room for development in the so called regular management activities, such as feedback, inclusion, recognition etc. Whether and how the management culture should change in this respect?
Margit Sutrop: Yes, I consider this a serious issue that people are proud of working in the university but at the same time they feel like the university does not care about them or value their work. Often this is due to miscommunication. Most of our leaders do not sense their responsibility in forming the organisational culture and supporting the employees’ individual development. Secondly, all leaders are burdened by overwork. There are not enough people and everyone who can and know how to do something are drained dry in Estonia. However, this cannot be solved by having heads of structural units do this as a full time job because in the academic world it is important to have a supervisor who is also an academic leader. In many areas we have only one strong player which is why taking them away from the academic work might halt the development of the whole specialisation or strain others even more. The only solution, therefore, is to decrease bureaucracy so that there is enough time to give feedback. It would help to train able young people to become leaders, sharing experience and supervision would also help leaders recognise what is expected of them and know how to respond to this.
The international accreditation committee pointed out the need to implement a systematic annual university-wide employee performance assessment. How important is it for you that each employee is given the opportunity to have a performance interview with their supervisor at least once a year during which they can conclude the previous work, make new agreements, receive feedback, discuss development options etc.? What would you like to change in your faculty regarding performance management?
Margit Sutrop: I think performance interviews are very important. But they need to have content and you have to know how to conduct one. In this aspect, leaders on all levels in the university have plenty of room for improvement. There is not enough skills of giving feedback to people’s work and will to assess your colleagues’ (because in an academic structure there are no subordinates, only colleagues) work and support their development. This is a topic we will definitely address in our faculty and organise respective trainings. I think getting acquainted with good practices would be of great use.
How to use academic buildings more efficiently with the faculty or campus?
Margit Sutrop: Cross using study rooms enables to use campus rooms more effectively and decrease expenses. A more comprehensive digital reservation system would help, it would also require different structural units to cooperate and inform each other of vacant rooms. Locating the rooms of the structural unit in a more compact way would also help. In the Faculty of Philosophy we gave up a whole academic building this autumn—the Babel building— and reconstructed the Lossi 3 building to suit the needs of the College of Foreign Languages and Cultures. Altogether the faculty gave up 800m2 but we still managed to fit all study work successfully.