Academic Rights Watch makes a complaint against Konstfack’s Vice-Chancellor Maria Lantz to the Parliamentary Ombudsmen

31 January 2018

As Academic Rights Watch (ARW) made a complaint to the Parliamentary Ombudsmen (JO), accusing Konstfack's Vice-Chancellor Maria Lantz of breach of the constitution, an account of the events is provided below.

What has happened? Following the appointment of a new Professor of Visual Communication, specialising in illustration and visual storytelling, ARW interpreted Konstfack’s request for norm critical expertise as applicants being required to be of ”the right political opinion” ARW’s complaint was made after the appointment decision and before the deadline for appeals, during which time Konstfack avoids commenting on individual cases out of respect for the applicants. This gives ARW a lot of room to remain unchallenged. We will respond to any appeals as we receive them – but not ahead of time: academicrightswatch.se/?p=3120

This article was followed up on by the right-wing extremist publication Fria Tider.

On 26 January, ARW subsequently makes a complaint to JO against Konstfack’s Vice Chancellor Maria Lantz, accusing her of acting unconstitutionally as they felt that the norm criticism-based ground for assessment ”violates the constitutional provision of government appointments being made on an objective basis”: academicrightswatch.se/?p=3135

What is ARW? A "fundraising foundation" with unclear backers, whose slogan is "Safeguarding academic freedom in Sweden"; a disputed group within academia that "makes frequent complaints to the Parliamentary Ombudsmen and the Office of the Chancellor of Justice, but which risks appearing dogmatic" according to a debate article writer in Universitetsläraren. Several universities have been beset over the years by the group’s ardent desire to "reveal attempts to infringe upon the fundamental rights of teachers and researchers, such as their freedom of expression and opinion": universitetslararen.se/2017/02/13/vad-ar-arw-egentligen/

ARW and norm critical expertise: ARW claims that "any person that may be considered must have practised ‘norm criticism’ in their artistry", when this is one assessment criterion out of a total thirteen in the case at hand. ARW is of course free, as is anyone, to feel that this assessment criterion is irrelevant. But perhaps not in the case of a programme for which this is a distinct part of the profile (the only one within visual communication in Europe). It is the right of every higher education institution to acquire a clear profile within a field, something that contributes to diversification and must be seen, if anything, as part of the academic freedom. And a foundation claiming to work against academic conformity must of course be aware of this fact. ARW is also of the opinion that the very concept of norm criticism has its origins in "a specific political tradition on the left side of the scale".

ARW then continues their article by. When they state that the professorship ought to be given "primarily to someone who is good at illustration and has the necessary pedagogical qualifications to teach it" they want to make it seem as if this is not in the grounds for the assessment. Which is not the case. In other words, ARW overlooks the possibility of different forms of knowledge coexisting, unless the whole thing should be understood as a purely rhetorical exercise, of course. Furthermore, their wording reveals a very shallow understanding of what illustration is: It would appear that ARW believes that illustration is about "nice drawings" and how to to teach others to make these. But an academic institution with Master’s programmes requires more than that. Illustration is translation and reflection, understanding and responsibility, in addition to technical and visual ability/craftsmanship.

What happens next? We will await any appeals of the appointment, which shall have been received no later than 30 January 2018, and handle them in due order. As regards the complaint to JO, we are confident of our position. We view this complaint as another opportunity to communicate the subject development of one of our areas of expertise. And to show how Konstfack safeguards academic freedom in Sweden.

Updated: 31 January 2018
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