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Integrity and character

Man sitting in a window reading.
Vice-chancellor Erik Renström in the Wrangel building, where he is located with his faculty office until Kungshuset is completely renovated in the autumn of 2022. Photo: Kennet Ruona

Ceremonies have a certain power that speaks more to the emotions than to the intellect.
This is the opinion of the newly inaugurated vice-chancellor Erik Renström, who sees the value in academic traditions.
In his management team, however, new winds are blowing, bringing with them the values of “integrity” and “character” and a pro vice-chancellor who is specially tasked with working on these aspects alongside communication.

“I want to see more of that here at the university. Employees who dare to stand up for their opinions and present them in a respectful way, but who also listen to other people's arguments”, he says.

Much is about respect and openness, even when Renström talks about the work environment – a subject he often returns to during the interview, which is conducted only a few days after he has taken office. Six years as vice-chancellor are now lying ahead of him, while behind him are twenty years of successful medical research.

However, it was not self-evident that he would make a career in academia; he came close to becoming a journalist.

“I applied and was accepted into a journalism programme but made a choice between that and the medical degree programme.”

It could be said these were very different routes, but Renström thinks that both professions were connected to his interest in people. In the tests undertaken before obtaining the vice-chancellor post, he found out that he has a strong social vein and is both quick-thinking and ambitious.

      “If I were not so social, I would probably be a pretty insufferable person”, he muses before adding that he is quite happy in his own company. “I can be really funny”, he says, laughing heartily at the spontaneous reflection.

Man in velvet mantle and golden chain.
Erik Renström was inaugurated in an empty assembly hall where he received the vice-chancellor’s chain from his predecessor, Torbjörn von Schantz. Photo: Kennet Ruona

The personality test also showed that he is decisive but can risk becoming too impulsive – something he has memorised and will be aware of. He also says that it is not natural for his personality type to slavishly follow all the rules.

“That said, of course I follow all the rules connected to the responsibilities of a public authority , and I also make sure matters are handled according to the rule book. That creates clarity and fairness”, he asserts.

Erik Renström can see the incompatibility of being both a public authority and a free academic institution. He also sees a desire for political control, as well as the risk that the University could be used a weapon in various debates.

“When this goes too far we need to have the integrity to send a message and stand up for our freedom and independence”, he says, noting he would like to see the University have a louder voice in society.

He believes that he should be apolitical, but individual employees have the right to say and think what they want, as long as they stay within the boundaries of the law. He also considers it important to differentiate between opinions and facts in every situation.

RQ20 will keep the management busy

The Government has been generous with funds for research councils in the recently presented research bill, but the funds are largely earmarked for specific types of research.

“We may curse governance that interferes too much, but for our part we can be grateful for the earmarked funds for MAX IV.”

Apropos research, the extensive RQ20 research evaluation has just landed on the vice-chancellor's desk, containing a range of recommendations for improvements in various areas, in particular recruitment. Clearer overall structures are also called for in governance, organisation, external engagement and infrastructure. Renström believes that RQ20 will keep the University management occupied for a long time to come and that the recommendations must be followed.

He coordinated the EXODIAB diabetes initiative until 2018. The strong research environments are generally mentioned in positive terms in the report, but less positive is the fact that they are not sufficiently beneficial to the educational programmes. Renström thinks that research and education can generally be further intertwined at the University.

Man in his office.
Erik Renström has got settled in his office. Photo: Kennet Ruona

“Education develops at a strong pace, but in order to achieve the highest quality, students need to have contact with the leading research managers and share their knowledge, not least to gain an understanding of the research process.”

With regard to applied research, Renström thinks that any encouragement of student innovations promotes that purpose, as do undergraduate courses in entrepreneurship, for example. When asked how applied he believes research should be, he responds that there must be a balance between applied and basic research.

“But we are probably most useful to society when we are not trying to be”, he notes. It can be a challenge to communicate things to wider society, which shows the importance of the new area of responsibility for one of the pro vice-chancellors – communication – alongside integrity and character.

“You can’t just have vanilla custard, you need a splash of bourbon and a little heat too"

Renström thrived on the vice-chancellor's management council of which he has been a member in the role of dean of the Faculty of Medicine for the past three years. He appreciates discussions with colleagues who have different perspectives and the challenge of taking on those perspectives. He is also not afraid of confrontations.

“You can’t just have vanilla custard, you need a splash of bourbon and a little heat too”, he believes.

He thinks the fact that so many other deans have applied for the vice-chancellor role is a positive testament to the work of the management council. He also notes that an obvious weakness is that no one outside the University registered their interest in the role.

Even after the first few days, Renström is aware that, from a purely practical perspective, the vice-chancellor role is largely a matter of sitting in meetings and answering emails.

“You have to like meetings if you want to be vice-chancellor, and I do. You meet many people you would not otherwise have met", he says, and believes this also applies to official entertainment events, of which there will probably be many in the future.

In his free time he likes to be outdoors in Landskrona, where he lives, running and walking in the woods or along the sea, preferably several times a day. He does not have a dog, but he smiles and says that if he had one it would be very fit.

Always well dressed

In the Wrangel building on Biskopsgatan, where Erik Renström performs his duties while waiting for Kungshuset to be completely renovated, the clothes hangers reveal the new vice-chancellor's interest in clothes. A cross-striped cheerful scarf hangs alongside his elegant overcoat. Always well dressed.

“Well, maybe more thoughtfully dressed. I cannot spend hours in the store choosing things, but I think clothes are fun - they make me happy."

He also thinks old houses are fun, preferably renovation jobs, although his wife mostly thinks he gets in the way during renovations. He’s not even allowed to oversee…

In any case, he now has a large building to lead containing 8,000 employees and 40,000 students. He points out that he is not alone in this task, thankfully. The deputy vice-chancellor and the five pro vice-chancellors are his closest colleagues, who share responsibility for the University's most important tasks between them.

“Their role is more to implement, while my role is to coordinate their work and set an overall goal and meaning for it.”