22 professors from leading universities in Europe, North America, Asia and Australia do not recognize the University of Copenhagen’s (UCPH) grounds for firing the geologist Hans Thybo from his role as professor at the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management.
“In most of the industrialised world a tenured professor can only be dismissed from a university for gross negligence or criminal behaviour,” reads the letter, which was sent to the rector, UCPH board and upcoming rector Henrik C. Wegener. It continues:
“Unless another explanation has been intentionally omitted from the official personnel documentation, the dismissal of professor Thybo is based on small considerations concerning the use of a personnel email address and encouraging a postdoc to respond impartially in an employee survey.”
UCPH focuses on one major factor
While Thybo’s case is complicated, it is correct that UCPH’s has cited that two primary grounds for the dismissal. The first is that Thybo used his private gmail address for work purposes. The second concerns an email Thybo sent to a younger postdoc, where he urged the researcher to keep in mind, that he did not have to portray management favourably in an employee evaluation of working conditions.
The last ground carries the most weight, because according to UCPH it shows that Thybo exposed a younger colleague to unreasonable pressure.
During the consultation process accompanying the dismissal, Thybo’s managers downplayed the email account issue. However they raised new concerns regarding the pressure placed on the younger researcher after Thybo was suspended from his job.
Threatening to take the story to leading scientific journals
Nicholas Arndt, professor at University Grenoble Alpes in France, is one of 22 signatories on the letter to UCPH management. Speaking to Uniavisen, the professor says that the group has approached around 10 Danish media outlets.
Arndt also states that the professors are considering pushing for editors at leading scientific journals such as Nature and Science to write about the dismissal case. In this way, they are pressuring UCPH management.
“Across the world, Denmark has a well deserved reputation as a modern, progressive country with an admirable social system. That a Danish university professor could be fired due to reasons which could, at best, be called insignificant, seems to us completely at odds with usual international practice. Should the news considering the decision become widely known, it could hurt the university system and the Danish scientific community’s reputation,” reads the professors’ letter to UCPH.
Two of the signatories to the protest letter are Crafoord prize winner from 2002 and 2015 respectively, a prize worth six million Swedish kroner and which is considered geology’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize.