The new Universities Act, which came into effect at the beginning of 2010, enabled the creation of Aalto University. The new act meant that universities changed from being accountable to the state to becoming more autonomous organisations. One consequence of this was that decision making and the preparation and treatment of issues that require decisions changed radically in all universities compared with the time when universities were state agencies. This also happened at Aalto University compared to the situation its three predecessor universities were in.
Decision making and preparing decisions
Aalto University bylaws and the School of Chemical Engineering's regulations define the school’s major executive bodies and the responsibilities for decision making. The decision maker in respect of most of the issues that affect the activities of the school is the dean, but for certain things, such as confirming tenure of professors, the decision maker is the president. The Academic Committee for Chemical Engineering (KTAK) is also an important body. It takes care of matters assigned to it by the university’s Academic Affairs Committee.
In addition, critical decisions are taken by the Degree Programme and Doctoral Programme Committees who have specific responsibility for decisions on thesis topics, advisors, supervisors, examiners and grades. There are Aalto level instructions with regard to recruitment and tenure related to the new academic career systems, and decisions in respect of these matters are taken either by the president or the dean of the school after they have heard the case prepared by committees from the department, school or the whole university.
From preparation by civil servants towards open discussion
The reform under the Universities Act made radical changes to the practices of all universities in the country. The new decision making system differs from the previous one in that there are fewer formal decision makers and there are fewer formal demands the process must satisfy. In Aalto’s model, the decision making process itself is relatively informal because the decision making process is not based on a preparation procedure carried out by civil servants that is defined by bureaucratic choreography. Instead, decisions are based on open discussion held within the university community.
The goal of the system is that all critical matters, reforms and policies that the school has to decide on, are discussed thoroughly and openly before a decision on the matter has to be made. The main forums for these decisions are the school's management team, meetings of the heads and deputy heads of departments, departmental management teams, the dean’s coffee events for the school's community, as well as various thematic and preparatory groups including the open discussion sessions organised by these groups, such as the ones we have seen in the preparation of the reforms to the bachelors’ degree programme. The real decision making process that was launched on the basis of these discussions was able to take into account the multitude of voices from the school community on the topic to be decided, and yet the process was still fluid.
The school’s decisions and decision preparation are thus framed against a background of free and multifaceted discussions in different bodies whose role is not to strengthen the presentation of decisions prepared by the administration, but rather to engage in discussions on the subjects themselves. Decisions reached in this way should be ones that everyone is able to commit to, even if the final solution differs from their original position.
Decision discussions flow from departmental meetings to the president’s desk
The dean leads the school and is part of Aalto’s management team, so he or she brings issues related to the operation of the school from the Aalto level for discussion within the school. Traffic also flows in the other direction; the dean takes issues discussed in the school to Aalto’s management team for consideration. The school’s management team does not take decisions, but rather prepares them and takes a position in respect of them. Our school’s management team consists of the dean, departmental heads as well as student and doctoral student representatives and representatives of other staff.
Most of the school’s day to day decisions are prepared in the meetings of departmental heads. Current issues affecting the school and university are discussed at these meetings.
Issues relating to the department are discussed at departmental meetings, as well as the department's position on policies and decisions taken in the school. The department heads bring matters form the school level to these meetings for discussion. These meetings can also propose initiatives relating to decisions being prepared in the school and the school’s position on issues.
Because the effort is made to ensure discussions on decisions being taken involve all the various bodies, some topics for discussion can go back and forth from the management team via the departmental heads to departmental meetings and back again a couple of times. When bureaucracy does not dictate the content in preparing decisions, everyone can get involved in the discussions if they want to before the final decision is made. You voice will be heard via the staff representatives on the management team, in departmental meetings as well as in discussion sessions for the whole school.