Scholar of the Year award speech, 2018

22.10.2018


The Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers issued its Scholar of the Year award for the 20th time this year. The Scholar of the Year is Ph.D. Jussi Jalonen, Tatte's PR-Officer.

 

The award is a collegial recognition, and recipients are nominated by fellow members of the university community. The award is not given for any particular scholarly achievement, but instead it recognizes work and dedication on behalf of the academic community.

The following text contains the recipient's speech at this year's award ceremony.


For starters, I want to thank all of my colleagues who wanted to award me this recognition. I'm very moved by this expression of confidence. The first person who received this award was historian Juha Siltala, so for me it's a special privilege to be a part of this continuum.

As a scholar, historian is bestowed with a heavy responsibility, today perhaps more than ever. As a discipline which focuses on the interpretation of the past and the present, history is a gateway to the higher understanding of culture, politics, social structures, ideologies, people's identity and their emotions; all of that which makes us what we are. For the same reason, history is a very popular field, attracting constant attention from the wider public. The latest historical disputes and new discoveries and interpretations almost always gain instant press and make headlines. New information on the past awakens, challenges and forces us to re-evaluate our perspectives. History is always present and visible, particularly in discussions which concern everyday politics.

Whether a historican can take part in this very discussion, not merely as an outside commentator but as an active participant, is a difficult one, but it's a question which we must face. Historians can contribute so much to the debates which concern today's burning questions, such as democracy, social peace, civil society, economic well-being or cultural encounters. Historians have seen the worst possible outcome. It's by no means a coincidence that some of the most visible critics of the Trump administration in the United States are historians; John Meacham, Timothy Snyder and Christopher Browning. Criticism, reflection, understanding of cause and effect, as well as the awareness that other kind of outcomes could have also been possible, provide excellent means to comment also on current politics and society. Finnish historians are equally active in commenting current affairs, which is a credit to our profession. History is an obligation, which requires us to remain critical and reflective also towards our own standpoints, while remaining secure of our conviction; and it requires us to preserve what we have, but also to move forward. It's a daunting task, but this obligation is something which every researcher realizes.

Commitment to higher education is, indeed, an obligation. It's a calling. Following this calling has not been easy during the past few years. The cuts which the current government has imposed on the university sector have been a topic of vivid discussion. This year, the Finnish universities also experienced their very first labor action. The university strike made it clear that we are no longer an isolated segment of the overall field of labor relations. Whether one likes it or not, we have to remain vigilant and ready to defend our position also in the future. As members of the university community, we must remember that while we protect our own position, we also safeguard an important institution. Defending our position as respected professionals overlaps with our calling for research and higher education, which makes this a matter of moral significance.

As researchers, we also have the means to produce new analysis on the ongoing changes in today's labor and economy. Many of these changes we have experienced in our daily lives in the academia already for some time. Certain qualities of the much-vaunted "platform economy" have been visible in the lives of grant researchers for well over a decade; grant researchers also have to take responsibility of their own funding, while the university provides them mainly with the platform on which they carry out their projects. In this respect, people at the universities have already experienced the effects of these predicted changes in the nature of work. Thus, we may be able to produce the means with which this future of labor can be made more just.

Another issue, which has much to do with values and is also a highly moral one, is the struggle on behalf of university autonomy. This has been a constant feature of the Tampere3 project, which is now on its last stretch. The power which the Ministry of Education has exercised in the imposition of foundation university model in Tampere, as well as the hegemonic position which the Technology Industries of Finland has enjoyed in the coordination of this project, have demonstrated in practice how the autonomy of the university community -- the traditional cornerstone of the university institution -- threatens to be eclipsed by the demands of the government and business life.

The university community has never regarded itself as living in isolation, and we have welcomed all cooperation and always remained open to interaction. But true interaction and dialogue cannot happen in a situation where the independence of the university, as well as our own expertise and our own vision of our future are subjected to practices which are simply dictated by the others. Further discussion on the foundation university model is thus absolutely necessary. In the future, the university legislation may have to be re-opened, and the legal status of foundation universities must be re-written so that their position as autonomous institutions becomes ironclad. This must be one of the main goals of the Finnish education policy.

These matters are of paramount importance. The autonomy of the university institution is the strongest guarantee of the freedom of science and research. A free university, with its position constitutionally guaranteed, and with ample resources, also releases the researchers to pursue their calling, the passion, which produces education, progress, and all that, on which depends that our nation as well as the entire humanity will continue to have a history also in the future. History is opening in front of us; and we are never at its end.


Jussi Jalonen

Ph.D., SOC/History, University of Tampere

PR-Officer, Tatte ry