Academic citizens are responsible citizens

Alumna of the year, Professor Laura Kolbe, wants to include the University community in political decision-making.

Laura Kolbe

Without the University, Helsinki would just be a network of empty, windy streets crowded onto a small peninsula – nothing like the vibrant city we know. The central role played by the University is obvious in its very location on Senate Square, designed by the architect Carl Ludvig Engel – the University stands as an equal to Helsinki Cathedral and Government Palace.

According to Alumna of the Year Laura Kolbe, Professor of European history, the University community was for long a key element in the development of the Finnish state and its welfare, at least until the 1980s came along. In contemporary Finland, the significance of universities seems to be tied more to financial values and competitiveness. Kolbe thinks the baby got thrown out with the bath water, as members of the University community lost their position as political actors and pioneers.

“We are producing more research than ever before in the history of Finland, and still researchers are having trouble getting heard in political decision-making and in the media. This troubles me,” states Kolbe.

Kolbe believes the opinions voiced by universities have lost their special position, and considers this a negative development, as rational, research-based thinking cannot be made equivalent to emotional, populist rhetoric.

“If we do not make ourselves heard in society, others will, and I’m not convinced this is a good thing for the future,” she adds.

City councillor, co-operative advocate, researcher and non-fiction author Kolbe has both written on the history of the City and University of Helsinki and worked for their future. This year marks the 200th anniversary of Helsinki’s establishment as the capital of Finland, which was something the University of Helsinki Alumni Association wanted to emphasise in its selection of the Alumnus or Alumna of the Year. A key aim of the Association is to foster an academic spirit in Helsinki, and few have been as successful in this task as Professor Kolbe.

Kolbe has the strongest feelings towards Helsinki when travelling abroad. A trip to Villa Lante in Rome as a student opened her eyes to European cultural history and the effects of the classical period. While working on her dissertation in London, Kolbe realised the important role of education in enabling and enhancing social mobility. During her time living in Amsterdam, Kolbe studied European and urban cultures.

“Academic citizenship means not just a sense of responsibility as a researcher and teacher, but a sense of duty towards the community,” states Kolbe. ”The cultural heritage of the University is a powerful example of this.”

Professor of European history Laura Kolbe was awarded the title of Alumna of the Year at the Alumni event on 26 October 2012. The title is awarded annually to an individual who has supported the mission and vision of the University of Helsinki, who has advocated that academic education be highly valued and who has promoted the academic spirit of Helsinki.

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Text: Tuomo Tamminen
Photo: Suvi-Tuuli Kankaanpää
29.10.2012
Translation: Language Services, University of Helsinki
University of Helsinki, digital communications


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