“The goal is to find a solution that strengthens the department’s activities in a new, functional, environment with good prospects for further development and where people are happy and want to work,” says Vice-Rector Mats Larhed, who is leading the process and is in continuous dialogue with the Vice-Chancellor.

The Department of Neuroscience was formed in 1998 through the merger of several smaller clinical and preclinical departments, something which at the time was seen as interesting and positive by the researchers. Most of the administrative challenges, such as different accounting systems, have been resolved over the years, but some difficulties have remained. However, in the University’s evaluation of research environments, KOF17, carried out in 2016-2017, it became apparent that the department was wrestling with quite intractable work environment problems. Measures have been taken but the problems have remained, which has affected the Department’s ability to make and implement decisions.

Complex problems

The problems at the department are complex and interlinked, with conflicts between groups over finance and governance and a number of hostile conflicts and situations that have affected people’s well-being and ability to work. Although these problems have not involved all employees, they have had a negative impact on the department since energy has been directed at things other than developing its education, research and third stream activities.

In the spring, it was decided to introduce rule by an external head of department in order to move forward from a stalemate where the Nomination committee had not succeeded in producing candidates for a new head of department. Lars Rönnblom, who has previously been a head of department within the disciplinary domain, was given the job.

“I was well received and have felt that there is a strong willingness to find a solution. One important task in this role has been to propose various potential organisational forms for the department,” he says.

Dissolving the department is considered to be the best solution

In his investigation, he identified four possible alternatives: choose a new head of department entrusted with taking on the further development of the department; continue with rule by an external head of department; split the department into a clinical unit and a pre-clinical unit; or dissolve the department and distribute its research groups and responsibilities for education among other departments. After consultation between the disciplinary domain management and the Vice-Chancellor and discussions at the department, the last option was deemed to have the best prospects of becoming a long-term solution to the situation. In parallel, matters related to individuals have been investigated and those concerned have been offered support.

Lars Rönnblom is aware that the process is greatly welcomed by some, while others feel that it is not necessary. Not everyone has seen or been involved in the conflicts and problems. The department is large with roughly 150 employees.

“I am therefore trying to inform everyone as clearly and transparently as I can. About what is happening as well as what decisions are being made, but also what I don’t know at present, so that everyone feels as well informed as possible.”

The goal is the best prospects for education and research

For Vice-Rector Mats Larhed, the goal is clear: research and education should be given the best prospects to develop in a positive direction, and even though the situation is currently perceived as difficult and unsettling, the situation must be tackled.

“And I would like to point out that large parts of the department are doing high-quality research and teaching – this is not about the activities disappearing. We really want a solution that is for everyone’s best.”

Dissolving a department could be seen as a drastic measure. Why weren’t any of the other options tested first?

“They have been tested in discussions at the department, within the disciplinary domain and with the Vice-Chancellor during the process, and it has become apparent that it is the solution that is best placed to really get to grips with the problems,” says Mats Larhed.

What will happen to the courses and study programmes at the department? Which departments will take over?

“All courses and study programmes at the department will be conducted as usual, in the same premises and in full accordance with the timetables already laid down. I don’t think that our students will notice any changes in their study environment, because the change is something that will happen mainly in the systems. This is now all being worked out, and it will work,” says Mats Larhed.

Is there a risk that research groups will be split up?

“No. If the dissolution of the department ends up being the decision, all research groups and study programmes will be moved in their entirety. No groups will be split up unless they want that themselves. It’s important that the research at the departments is allowed to continue with high quality,” says Mats Larhed.