Published: 15-04-2016 09:00 | Updated: 15-04-2016 09:00

Acting Pro-Vice-Chancellor Henrik Grönberg to restore confidence in KI

Acting Pro-Vice-Chancellor, cancer researcher Henrik Grönberg, is replacing Karin Dahlman-Wright, the permanent pro-vice-chancellor, while she serves as acting vice-chancellor. His main responsibility will be to restore confidence in KI after the Macchiarini case.

How much can you actually do in your temporary managerial role and how much authority do you have to change things?

“We’ve been given a very strong mandate from the University Board, and feel that we have the full support of the organisation. I’m leading the Fenix project, whose goal is to change and restore confidence in KI.”

How will you do that?

“Over the next few weeks, we’ll be gathering information. The University Director and I will be visiting all departments and meeting with all of the administrative managers and heads of department. We’ll be explaining how we work, identifying the problems that the departments want to raise, and looking both at what the challenges are and what needs to be prioritised.”

How have your meetings with the departments gone so far?

“We’ve been welcomed. Most of them talk about how they’ve handled the crisis of confidence at KI, and what they’re now doing in the ‘second phase’, during which many will be addressing key issues.”

What can the KI management say about the Macchiarini case today?

“Our overall message has been clear: what happened was wrong. We deeply regret the possible involvement of KI researchers in the premature death or unnecessary suffering of patients. Karolinska Institutet takes responsibility for what happened and is working hard to ensure it won’t happen again.”

But more specifically?

“These issues about where KI has failed are mainly up to the three internal investigations to review, and their reports will probably not be released until after the summer. There’s the external investigation into KI’s handling of the Macchiarini case, Kjell Asplund’s investigation into the hospital’s responsibility for the different operations, and the Central Ethical Review Board’s (CEPN) investigation into the case of scientific misconduct against Macchiarini. Once we receive their reports, we’re prepared to provide our detailed analysis and comment on the matters.”

The Ethnics Council at KI has received particular attention in this case and you will oversee its reorganisation – how will you be going about that?

“I’ll do the departmental reviews first, and then I intend to meet key people from the Ethics Council. The investigation into the Macchiarini case is about that specific case, but ethical questions in general are totally independent of this, and I think that the Ethics Council’s remit should be broader than it currently is. I’ll also be meeting with other universities. Lund, for instance, is also in the process of setting up an ethics council and is wrestling with the same issues.”

What about the Ethics Council in the mean time?

“I’ll be overseeing a review of its duties and mandate this spring. All of its activities will be put on hold, which in effect means that the current council has been disbanded. We’ll also be looking at how we handle cases of misconduct internally. In this situation, we’re avoiding internal investigations.”

What results do you yourself expect from this year as acting pro-vice-chancellor?

“Our changes are relatively small. There’ll be no revolutionary changes. It’ll be mostly about how we handle difficult departmental issues and support the departmental heads. Certain environments work extremely well, have an open culture and share their research results so that others can either be supportive or critical. Having a work environment in which people are happy and show respect for each other means you can be competitive.

“Other departments require more support. They’re geographically dispersed or lack an open culture. There are also some isolated environments were people don’t collaborate with colleagues. There are many advantages to be had from sharing our experiences, and we need to have the courage to discuss and address our failures.”

Text: Madeleine Svärd Huss

Translated by: Neil Betteridge, Sara Aldén

Name: Henrik Grönberg.
Occupation: Acting pro-vice-chancellor at Karolinska Institutet since 7 March 2016. In charge of leading the work of restoring confidence in KI. Responsible for KI’s involvement in SciLifeLab and the new building work on the Huddinge campus; also participates in the KI/SLL management group discussions.
Brief biography: Medical degree from Umeå University in 1987, specialisation in oncology in 1994, and PhD in 1995 from Umeå in prostate cancer epidemiology. Postdoc at Johns Hopkins (1996–1997), professor of oncology at Umeå (2002), and professor of cancer epidemiology at KI (2005). Has held several positions, including head of the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics (2008–2013).
Why he accepted the job: “It’s obviously a challenge. That was the first reason. Secondly, I’ve had ten very good years at KI, the best of my professional life, so it felt right to do more for KI. I had initial reservations because of my huge research commitments, but my junior colleagues were prepared to take charge of things during this period. I’ve also had to stop seeing patients at Radiumhemmet and take leave of absence.”