Published: 15-02-2017 17:26 | Updated: 25-01-2023 09:59

Strong support for Ole Petter Ottersen in the Consultative College

The Consultative College gave the Nomination Committee strong support for proposing to the government that Ole Petter Ottersen be appointed as Karolinska Institutet’s new vice-chancellor. Following discussion and a secret ballot, the voting results were 85 in favour of Ottersen, two against and three abstentions.

The Consultative College, which represents the academic, student and personnel organisations, was convened for a consultation with the Nomination Committee on Tuesday evening.

During the meeting, the chair of the Consultative College, Sven-Erik Dahlén, the chair of the Nomination Committee and the Board of Karolinska Institutet, Mikael Odenberg, and the chair of the search committee, Carl Johan Sundberg, each in turn presented their unanimous opinion that Ole Petter Ottersen was the strongest candidate. They concurred that none of the other candidates could match Ottersen’s qualifications with regard to KI’s requirement profile for the post of vice-chancellor and that it was therefore unnecessary to present additional candidates.

When asked by a member of the Consultative College if their votes really meant anything, and if the process could be considered to have been conducted properly, Mikael Odenberg replied that the process had been conducted “in an extraordinarily proper manner”.
“And it is in your hands to decide if KI shall accept him,” he said.

He then pointed out that the Consultative College’s role is an advisory one and that it is the university board that proposes a vice-chancellor to the government; however, he added that no one wishes to have a vice-chancellor who faces strong opposition.

A final candidate with no competition

“We are looking for broad acceptance on the part of the Consultative College,” Mikael Odenberg said.

He went on to declare his conviction that Ole Petter Ottersen is the right final candidate – conviction that comes from the search committee’s extensive selection process and his own assessment after leadership tests and employment interviews.

Ole Petter Ottersen, Rector of Oslo University, and earlier first choice for the post of vice-chancellor at the University of Gothenburg, is the only name that the nomination committee wishes to proceed with.

“If you don’t want to have him, we’ll start the process again. But I hope that alternative won’t arise.”

And it did not.

Ottersen presented himself

Ole Petter Ottersen introduced himself before the vote took place – his first appearance before a larger assembly at Karolinska Institutet in the role of vice-chancellor candidate:

“You can imagine how I’m feeling right now,” said Ole Petter Ottersen in melodious Norwegian. After the usual initial problems adjusting the auditorium’s microphones, he declared that he never would have dreamed that he would be considered for this position.

“I’ll try to speak Scandinavian, and will see very quickly from people’s body language if it’s difficult to understand,” he continued.

He had already presented a programme declaration, which was published on the KI intranet. He began with a slide of Hans Rosling, honorary doctor at Oslo University, whose death had deeply saddened him, and also shared an image of the longest line of students Oslo University has ever seen, which wound its way through campus to a lecture given by Hans Rosling.

“It’s tragic that he is no longer with us,” said Ole Petter Ottersen, who in his programme declaration wrote about KI’s need to strengthen its profile in the field of global health.

Summarised the vice-chancellor’s role in three key areas

But first he pointed out the milestones in his own career: Dean of Research at the Faculty of Medicine, Director of Norway’s Centres of Excellence (Centre for Molecular Biology and Neuroscience), and Rector of Oslo University since 2009.

He summarised the university’s most important foundation as three pillars:

The first with the words research and education, “science communication and outreach” (“at which Hans Rosling was a master”), but also innovation and internationalisation, with a comment about far too few students travelling and encouraging more to do so.

The second pillar was about regional collaboration, where he emphasised interaction between the university and health and medical care, and a closer connection between clinical research and basic research.

The third column underlined academic freedom, equality and diversity, as well as fundamental values, an ethical foundation and a good work environment.

Enthusiasm most important of all

“A good work environment constitutes the most important aspect,” said Ole Petter Ottersen, and that if he were appointed KI’s next vice-chancellor, he would consider creating enthusiasm within the organisation to be his primary task.

“People’s happiness in their work has suffered over the past year, and as a researcher, I know that happiness in your work is the most important part of getting things done.

The Consultative College’s students asked questions about what Ole Petter Ottersen thinks about student representation, to which he replied:

“I don’t believe it’s possible to achieve high quality without student engagement. Students must have representatives on all decision-making bodies at a university.”

When asked where he stands on external recruitment versus internal recruitment, he replied that Oslo University has focused on increasing external recruitment with the help of search committees, but that it is also important that there are career paths for people already in the system.

Another question concerned how he viewed the problems KI has in the borderland between the healthcare system’s responsibility and the university: Is there anything in your collaboration between Oslo University and the university hospital that KI can learn from?

Ole Petter Ottersen wants to stimulate joint professional positions and also spoke about the importance of physical proximity. “That’s when ideas and collaboration happen. Clinical researchers and basic researchers must meet to a greater degree,” he replied.

Leisure-time interests? Skiing and art.

KI Ole Petter Ottersen’s first choice

A couple of members of the Consultative College also wanted to know if Ole Petter Ottersen was a candidate for vice-chancellorship at other universities besides Karolinska Institutet, considering his late withdrawal from the recruitment process at the University of Gothenburg.

“KI is my first choice,” he replied. “The University of Gothenburg wanted me, and when KI suspended its search process, that caused problems for me. Now there’s only one university I’m thinking about.”

Are you going to learn Swedish?

“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to speak perfect Swedish – the languages are too similar. But I’ve never heard anyone from Sweden speak perfect Norwegian either,” answered the man who, in all probability, will become Karolinska Institutet’s new vice-chancellor.

Text: Madeleine Svärd Huss

What happens next?

  • On Monday 20 February, Karolinska Institutet’s board (konsistoriet) can take the formal decision to submit a proposal to the government that Ole Petter Ottersen be appointed vice-chancellor of the university.
  • It is the government that decides on KI’s new vice-chancellor.
  • The new vice-chancellor will probably be able to begin the post during the summer. Ole Petter Ottersen’s term as vice-chancellor of Oslo University comes to an end this summer.