Verdict by Parliamentary Ombudsman on Tampere University regulations on 27 March, 2019
Parliamentary Ombudsman finds Tampere University regulations not contrary to law
The verdict has also been acknowledged in the national YLE news media.
Below is a press release by professor Mari Hatavara and university researcher Hanna Kuusela on the verdict. The text has been translated by Jussi Jalonen and proofread by Emilia Luukka.
University Act must be reopened and the autonomy of foundation universities specified
The recent decree by the Parliamentary Ombudsman is a strong message on the necessity to re-open and re-write the University Act and approach the administrative practices of Finnish foundation universities with a critical eye. The decision was a response to the complaint filed by the personnel organizations and student body of the University of Tampere, requesting the Parliamentary Ombudsman to clarify the legality of the new university regulations. The university regulations complement the University Act, determining the division of executive authority within the university, as well as the tasks of the various administrative bodies.
The decree by the Parliamentary Ombudsman does not place any direct demands on the Tampere University, but neither does it give any judicial clarity to this issue, which has remained very thorny for a long time. Rather, the decree states that the matter now rests with the Finnish Government, particularly the Ministry of Education, as well as the University Board, and thus emphasizes how the decisions so far have been a matter of conflicting interpretations.
Hanna Kuusela, who represented the Tampere University Researchers and Teachers, states: ”We expected that the legality of the administrative model in foundation universities would finally be clarified once and for all. That did not happen, and instead the Ombudsman names several different approaches to the issue. Basically, he passes the buck to the Ministry of Education and Culture, and to the University itself".
The verdict emphasizes the constitutionally-guaranteed university autonomy, and because of this, the Ombudsman considers that he does not have the authority to make a judicial decision on the matter. The resolution states ”the conflict cannot be settled by any interpretation of the Ombudsman; neither would it be completely unproblematic if the substance of the university autonomy, guaranteed in the Constitution, and the relations of administrative bodies within the university, were dependent merely on a statement issued by the Parliamentary Ombudsman."
The Ombudsman nonetheless calls for new clarifications in the University Act. Tampere University is also duly informed of the ambiguous parts of its regulations, for which there “do not appear to be any clear justifications”.
“The post-election cabinet just received a very distinct message on the need to re-open the University Act, so we could avoid these legal ambiguities and unclarities in the future. Ongoing conflicts are in no one's interest, and now that even the Ombudsman has transferred the responsibility to the Parliamentary Constitutional Committee and the politicians, they should answer the call", Kuusela states.
The doubts on the legality of the regulations concern primarily the part where the Academic Board, as the elected body of the university community, was appointed a President from outside of its members, as well as the various stipulations which limit the power of the Academic Board to decide on the nomination process of the University Board.
The Ombudsman states, that the University Act contains contradictions on the election of the President of the Academic Board. Only those who have been elected by the university community may be members of the Academic Board; however, the nomination of the President of the Academic Board is not specified in the University Act, and the University Board can thus decide on it in its regulations. In the case of the present foundation universities, the regulations are nonetheless subject to legal interpretation. On the basis of this statement, the University Act should be specified in order to guarantee the constitutional autonomy of universities.
Professor Mari Hatavara, who represented the Professors' Union in the complaint, comments: “The Ombudsman has sent a clear message to the present Board of Tampere University on the judicially proper manner to nominate the President of the Academic Board. I sincerely hope that the Board will take this under consideration and alter the regulations so that the nomination of the President of the Academic Board is conducted in accordance with the parts of the University Act that determine composition of the Academic Board. The success of the new university and the recently-initiated process to determine and declare the values of our new university require that we can leave these differences of legal interpretation behind.”
According to the Ombudsman, these judicial contradictions could be resolved, but the autonomous position of the universities and differences of interpretation constrain the Ombudsman from making this decision. Therefore, it is the University Board that should make the necessary changes.
The Ombudsman also states that many parts of the regulation, which pertain to the nomination of the University Board, currently limit the powers of the Academic Board. “These regulations should also be overturned, if we really wish to respect the power of the Academic Board, as an elected body, to independently nominate the University Board. This is the power which has been bestowed on the Academic Board by law”, Kuusela comments.
“The most significant part in the statement of the Ombudsman, and a matter of some delight, is the clear commentary on the problems of the current University Act, as well as the emphasis on university autonomy", Hatavara states. “Now all we need is for our authorities at the university to take charge of fixing the existing casting defects in the regulations. The university community has repeatedly pointed out these problems, as early as before the first set of regulations were accepted, but so far it has been to no avail.”
On 26 March 2019, Pasi Pölönen, the Assistant Parliamentary Ombudsman (EOAK/1327/2018), resolved a complaint filed on 6 March 2018 by the Tampere University chapter of the Professors' Union, Tampere University Association of Researchers and Teachers (Tatte), the Student Body of the University of Tampere (Tamy), the Personnel Association of the University of Tampere (TaYHY), and the Tampere University Association of Lecturers and Teachers (TaYLL). The purpose was to settle the legality of the regulations of the new Tampere University, accepted on 10 February 2018 by the transitional Interim Board of the Tampere University Foundation. The new university was a result of the fusion between the University of Tampere and the Tampere University of Technology. Contrary to an erroneous part in the Parliamentary Ombudsman's statement, complaints have also been filed to the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland, but so far there is no legal court decision in effect.
For more information, contact:
Mari Hatavara, professor, Tampere University, +358401901565