“The last days and times are surely here.” – Wu-Tang Clan, Impossible
So, today’s the last day for me as a student at the University of Vaasa. Starting tomorrow, I’ll be a Doctoral Student at the University of Jyväskylä. Those are the simple facts but in reality, things are a bit more complicated so let’s go over them a little bit more in detail. Well, actually a lot more detail. You’ve been warned.
Background: I did both my BA and MA in English Studies at the University of Vaasa, and in 2014 I was lucky enough to be allowed to enter the Graduate School of the University of Vaasa in order to pursue my doctorate. In the summer of 2016, the University of Vaasa announced that they had been secretly* negotiating with the University of Jyväskylä and come to an agreement that all the language studies will move from Vaasa to Jyväskylä as a transfer of business on the first of August 2017.
Throughout my studies, I had been proud to be a member of the academic community at the University of Vaasa and enjoyed studying at what must be the prettiest campus area in Finland (see featured image). I had been lucky enough to receive funding to do my research from the University of Vaasa, too. I had also always been happy with the quality of the instruction that I received at the University of Vaasa. Even though various ranking systems regularly rank Vaasa among the worst universities in Finland, I had always thought that our little English Studies group was kind of a cut above the rest and screw the rankings. As everyone knows, or should know, those rankings are mostly bullshit anyway (yeah, isn’t that what those who don’t do well in them always say). So in a nutshell, I was happy studying in Vaasa and I felt (and still feel) grateful for getting a good education and even actual money to pursue my doctorate.
But, the sudden announcement that the University of Vaasa was kicking out all its language students and staff came as a definite shock, and the low-blow-quality of the announcement was further magnified by the dishonest way the negotiations had been conducted. Furthermore, since the original announcement, the students and staff in Vaasa have been jerked around with a continuous mix of either bad or non-existent (and sometimes even hostile) communication. At times it has felt like some of these people in charge of the transfer are Trump administration rejects, so bad has the communication been. Just one example: when the transfer was announced, the stated goal was that everyone actually transfers and no-one uses their right to finish their studies in Vaasa. When the transfer period ended, only about a quarter of the students had transferred, and even of that quarter, PhD students were a large group. This was announced as a success.
Credit: dailymail.co.uk (sorry for linking to the daily fail).
Yeah OK so I may be prone to exaggeration occasionally… Aaanyhoo, all this has led to a lot of confusion and resentment towards the whole transfer of business. This has been the case with many in my peer group as well as among many in the staff and, apparently a lot of the undergraduate student population, too. People have been voicing their complaints to the people in charge and local newspapers have reported on how badly treated people feel, but I guess the transfer deal was set up in the darkness and only announced when the negotiations were finished precisely because of this; if people had found out about the negotiations when there was still time to change things, this whole thing would have been much more unpleasant for the big bosses to get done.
The present situation: So, the above being the background, the situation now is that many of my colleagues are transferring with me tomorrow (those not transferring to Jyväskylä have devised alternative plans and solutions) but we still don’t know much about what our future as part of the University of Jyväskylä looks like. Apparently some of the staff will move to Jyväskylä and others will stay in Vaasa (although officially as members of the University of Jyväskylä) to take care of the teaching of the students who essentially decided to give the finger to the whole transfer and try to finish their studies in Vaasa. As far as I know, many of my peers will be mostly working from home having decided not to move their entire lives to another city. Basically, we’re all still just waiting what will happen to us. The transfer has been handled so unprofessionally by both universities in question that we still know almost nothing of how our studies will continue, and even many of the most rudimentary yet important aspects of our studies have still not been solved. Like, even having a bloody email account at Jyväskylä, or knowing for sure who will supervise our theses, etc. I know I’ve been saying for a long time here that I will write more on how the transfer goes when I know more but that moment just never really seems to arrive.
Although the above probably sounds quite grim, my own personal situation is better than that of many others affected by this. As I said in the last post, I was lucky enough to get a temp job working as a Doctoral Student at the University of Jyväskylä until the end of December. So basically, my finances and therefore the continuation of my studies is guaranteed to at least the end of the year. As an “official” Doctoral Student I’m an actual member of staff at the University of Jyväskylä. Previously I have been, depending on which nomenclature one subscribes to, either a PhD Student, Graduate Student, or Postgraduate Student, and I haven’t received an actual salary to write my thesis but have financed my studies by getting scholarships and doing some teaching on the side.
So although I have spent much of this post complaining, at least my own situation is relatively good, for the moment at least. And although I have been far from happy with the way the University of Jyväskylä has handled the transfer process, I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that maybe at least part of the reason for their shortcomings has lied with the University of Vaasa who I consider to be the real “villain” of the story. After all, the University of Jyväskylä actually wants us there, and they’ve been kind enough to even pay me money to do my research so I guess I shouldn’t complain, right? And, to be fair, I am sure that this transfer business has been tricky to handle from a purely organisational perspective.
I was unable last spring to secure a new scholarship for myself for the upcoming academic year and didn’t yet know about my new job so, in order to make ends meet, I basically said “yes” to every teaching opportunity that came my way. This includes teaching a couple of small courses for the University of Vaasa. After finding out about the transfer and then witnessing what it became I was thinking that when my studies there end (so, today), I would never ever work for them anymore. After all, one of the reasons why I had left my previous, comfortable and reasonably well paid job in mid-level management was that I didn’t feel like I was making enough of a positive contribution, from an ethical standpoint, to the world in that job. Surely I wouldn’t work for an organization that treats its employees as badly as the University of Vaasa?
Well, as it happens, I will. At least a little bit. The person who asked me to still teach some courses in Vaasa is someone who I respect, and I know that they certainly didn’t have anything to do with the whole transfer debacle so I ended up saying “yes” even to that job offer. “The kid’s gotta eat, right?” “If I didn’t do it, someone else would, right?” Excuses, excuses I know. Well, maybe it’s not all as serious as I make it out to be. It’s just a job at the end of the day, just like being in Dr Evil’s Private Army.
So, I will still stay on in the University of Vaasa as an hourly paid hench- sorry, teacher, for another academic year and, at least for now, I will apparently even do my University of Jyväskylä Doctoral Student job from Vaasa, provided that I can get a decent space to work from. This all may sound a bit complicated but this is the current reality.
The future: So, what will the future hold for yours truly? The simple answer is that I don’t know but what else can I say but that I’ll keep you posted. In any case, I am truly looking forward to continuing my work. Since the announcement came over a year ago that we’re being kicked out, I haven’t been able to properly focus on my dissertation and have felt like I haven’t progressed much, especially compared to the progress I made during the first two years of my studies.
Several months after finding out about the transfer, it felt like I was walking around in a dark cloud with not a single clear thought in my head. Similar thoughts were reported by other people affected by this, too. Then in the fall I was lucky enough to be able to “get away from it all” and spend several months studying abroad at Hacettepe University among a group of dedicated ecocritics. Coming back to Vaasa from Hacettepe was professionally speaking a challenging time because I lost the vibrant and like-minded community that I had just started getting to know and was instead back amidst all the negativity of the situation here in Vaasa. Don’t get me wrong, my peer group and colleagues in Vaasa are great but in a situation like we were at there’s just no way really to keep up the great spirit and and all the valuable academic exchange like interesting seminars, etc. that we used to have. I didn’t even have official access to a proper working space at my university anymore (that’s another long story) and, like many of my peers, I just had to resort to working from home which, although doable, is far from ideal. (Right now I’m actually in the local library writing this post on my laptop during a break from “proper” research.)
So, compared to the situation during the past year or so and having this new job, I’m feeling all in all quite optimistic now. This is partly “true” optimism and partly something I’ve just decided; I do want to try finishing my thesis and at least have a look after that at whether or not I can actually make a career in academia. So, the alarm is set to early o’clock tomorrow and I’m looking forward to continue writing my thesis. I don’t actually know exactly where I will be doing my job from but at least tomorrow I’ll head to the University of Vaasa and hope that my keys still work and that I can access the computers. I’m sure everything will work itself out and I’ll soon be too busy working in my cool new job to have time to complain. As always, thanks for reading if you made it this far, and I’ll certainly keep you posted on how things go.
*According to then rector of the University of Jyväskylä, the secrecy was precisely because the University of Vaasa demanded it. Interview here (in Finnish only, sorry).
Featured image (not visible in mobile theme) credit: uva.fi