Jytte’s new chair of the board Johanna Turunen reflects on the coming year and Jytte’s developing role during it.
Last year was in many ways challenging, surprising, complicated, and tiring but also in places inspiring. The pandemic forced us to rethink many of the fundamental ways in which we operate. It has also made certain weak aspects of academic work painfully obvious. In the future, we will probably have to think of new operating models on both an individual and sector level. As the biggest union lobbying for the universities’ mid-level employees, FUURT plays a key role in planning for the future. What will academic work look like after the pandemic? What forms will internationalisation take and what will it mean in the future? How can professional wellbeing be taken care of collectively if work is increasingly done from home? How will all this be reflected in the next round of collective bargaining? And how can the famous leap from a fixed-term university teaching position into a permanent lectureship be made easier? These are just some of the questions we need to look answers for.
For my part, I have had the chance to spend four years participating in the activities of the Jytte board as well as observing quite closely the work of the previous chair, Mikko Jakonen, and the union operations. Still, in many ways this year will be a new beginning for me. I am due to receive my doctorate soon and that will change my position in the professional community. At the same time, being the chair of Jytte is bound to change my role as a union activist. This will be a year of learning – both for myself and for Jytte.
I hope that in the coming year, we will be able not only to maintain the good practices Mikko was able to establish but also to develop our operations to meet the needs of our members even better. I also hope that in the future we can enhance Jytte’s role as a key player at the University of Jyväskylä, in FUURT, and with different partners on both local and national levels.
In addition to performing the traditional duties of a trade union, such as monitoring labour agreements and workers’ rights, Jytte has in its operations emphasised issues such as the status of grant-funded researchers and themes like discrimination, the environment, hate speech, and mental health. Long-continued work for the rights of grant-funded researchers can be seen in the increase in the number of researcher contracts and in the University’s formal decision to change the title of doctoral student into that of doctoral researcher, which better reflects the research element and the complexity of the work included in the role.
The decision only applies to postgraduate students who are employed by the University. The exclusion of grant-funded researchers understandably created some friction. However, the reason for this is surprisingly practical. Universities have no official mandate to define the official titles of grant-funded or self-funded researchers. The decision on the job titles of grant-funded researchers is simply not for the University to make.
The change of titles should be viewed in a broader context. Introducing the title of doctoral researcher in the Finnish academic field has been a long-term goal for FUURT and the decision is a part of this development. It is an important step for all doctoral researchers and will improve their professional status – regardless of the source of their funding. The direction is right, then, but a lot remains to be done. We are not alone in this process. The work is advanced on a broad front and for example the University of Eastern Finland’s decision to offer a 10% contract to anyone who has received external funding for a period longer than a year shows that things are changing.
In the coming year, we are hoping to supplement familiar themes with new emphases. Upcoming themes include the diverse career paths at the university, the situation with university teachers, digital pedagogy, wellbeing in the corona era, and the wellbeing of academics more generally. Academic careers and their attractiveness are also the topic of the FUURT spring seminar and will also be discussed in Jyväskylä and on a national level – together.
It is about communities and working together, also on the local level. I am quite happy that the board as well as the membership of Jytte represents the whole spectrum of mid-level employees. This year, a wide range of faculties and career stages have representation on the board. Each year, new activists join us.
Despite the broad representation, I wish that in the future we were joined by activists from the so-called quieter faculties, such as the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences, and members of other staff and students. Only a broad spectrum of representatives will allow us to lobby for all mid-level employees. Jytte is not just a union for researchers, but a community for the whole university. We want to work on behalf of the whole community, with the interests of the least well off our top priority.
In my experience, the work with Jytte has been eye-opening and it has opened a lot of doors. I have been able to join several development groups and received opportunities to speak at arenas rarely available for doctoral researchers. At the same time, I have received concrete tools for addressing issues I find important.
For a while now, the members of Jytte’s board have joked about the Jytte Hero – the fearless union activist who flies around like a superhero, solving staffing problems and defending researchers’ rights in the hate speech filled social media. Heroism is built on small acts and the power of numbers. This is what we need our members for. My hope is that you get in touch about anything that bothers you, join in our activities, and release your inner Jytte Hero.
Jytte’s chair of the board 2021
Department of Music, Art and Culture Studies