Updated: Mar 12, 2022
4th of March, 2022 at Lund University
Dear Vice-Chancellor, Dear friends of Lunds Universitet.
I wrote my speech for the occasion two weeks ago. It was a speech of celebration and hope. Since then we have witnessed war on European ground, and I am not sure if celebration and hope are still appropriate – or maybe it is even more so now than before.
My research on crisis
In my research, I study how organizations and individuals respond to a crisis situation.
I research this in the context of corporate scandals and in the past 4 years I had the rare opportunity to conduct interviews and observations at a bank before, during, and after the bank faced the largest money-laundering scandal in history.
My unique empirical material focused on how the employees and managers of the bank – those not involved in the wrongdoing of money laundering – were still affected by the scandal.
They were deep in an organizational crisis, and though this particular crisis was caused by a public scandal, many of my findings can be translated to other kinds of crises.
At least I see many parallels between how my research participants reacted and how my students and colleagues here at the university reacted to the covid crisis during the past two years.
My research shows that during a crisis
o We begin to question who we are and what our values are in this world. What are we doing here?
o What seemed meaningful before all of a sudden seems meaningless.
o Our sense of agency is shattered. We feel powerless.
o Our everyday lives become impacted by emotions of concern, sadness, loss, and loneliness.
Our ability to make sense of the world breaks down, and the world no longer seems like an orderly and rational place. We start searching for new meaning.
And while the uncertainty, anxiety, and awkwardness have marked the world around us the past two years, we at the university have tried out best to carry out our work – as students, as teachers, as administrators, as researchers, and as managers.
Being a student during the COVID19 pandemic
In the fall of 2020, I had a student by the name of Satta. Satta was from Bangladesh and was in Lund for a year to do her master's degree in Managing People, Knowledge, and Change at Lund University School for Economics and Management. As Satta arrived she told me that her mother had just passed away with Covid in Bangladesh.
The full-year she was here she received the majority of her teaching online. The students organized to meet in WhatsApp groups as everyone in her class had arrived here along with dreams of getting a degree and learning about topics they cared about, but also of making friends, experiencing the culture of Sweden, and traveling.
While she was here - Lund was only a shadow of itself, national borders across Europe were closed and social life was kept to bubbles.
And Satta was not alone – this was the reality of a generation of young people – students and coming students at our university.
Satta was here for a year but never attended any lectures in the lecture halls. Rarely did she meet teachers face to face. While she was here more family members of hers died with Covid back home in Bangladesh.
The conditions for learning in the case of Satta and many others have truly not been the best. Not only because we have been teaching digitally – but also because so many scary things have happened around us and around our students.
As teachers, we have had to ask ourselves: How can we through our teaching open up a world to curiosity, wonder, and amazement – when the world around us is broken down.
My teaching pedagogy
When I was asked to talk about my research and teaching pedagogy for your tonight, I could not help thinking how this breakdown in meaning has impacted how we teach our students today and the kind of learning we want our students to engage in.
Especially during the past years, it has been imperative to not only teach our usual curriculum but also help our students make sense of what is happening around us. To give sense to the world.
First, for all teachers and administrators, this time has been a time for showing compassion. For ourselves and for our students.
Compassion in my teaching has for me meant putting words to what is going on. Talk to the students about it. Talk to them about the difficult situation we are all in. Talk to them about the Swedish darkness during the winter months, which indeed has been more dark than usual. And try my best to engage them in the curriculum when also showing understanding for the difficult life situation of many.
Second, I have prioritized strengthening the students' ability to form their own new meaning about the world around us – and to engage in critical thinking. A large part of my teaching is student-led. The students organize seminars by themselves, so they are able to raise the questions that they think are important. To critically reflect and discuss the research we teach on the course. To learn by teaching others – their peers.
Past and future
What I have learned from my research on crisis is that with a crisis comes an opportunity for learning and for change. When we experience a breakdown in our understanding of the world as an ordered and rational place, our first inclination is to try and re-establish the previous order.
I believe we all yearn to “go back” to normal, go “back to campus” in our teaching and go “back to our offices”.
However, I think we might miss a magical opportunity of reflection and learning, in our nostalgic dreaming of how it was before.
The world has moved on, and while the pandemic is no longer an immediate risk other crises still persist. The world's wicked problems are at our doorstep. How can we educate students in a way where they are ready to cope with or even better solve these wicked problems and create a sustainable future?
Especially, as teachers of economics and management, we can no longer uncritically “go back” to teaching theories and models of the past, when we send out students as our leaders of the future.
To me teaching about organizational change and development and the rich conversations I have had with students during the past two years indicate that while the world as we know it has broken down, a new world is emerging. A new world that is open for exploration, examination, innovation, and reflection.
I truly believe that the future is not for those who know – but for those who learn, those who are curious, and for those who are courageous.
Today is truly a time of celebration. The – hopefully last COVID winter is over – spring is in the air and so is hope!