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Highlighting the students

On 1 August, Professor Sunniva Whittaker starts her new position as rector at UiA. As rector, she wants to promote UiA as a key organisation and highlight the students and will, among other things, hire a student mentor as her personal advisor. Read more about the new rector here.

Sunniva Whittaker is a linguist and literature scholar, with a complementary education in economics and leader education. As new rector, she wants the students to be in the spotlight and highlight UiA as a key organisation.

See also: Sunniva Whittaker is UiA’s next rector

“We are a university and we must ensure that we make ourselves visible in the public arena through our knowledge and expertise”, says UiA's new rector.

Sunniva Whittaker finds herself in between the traditional humanistic educational approach and the economical one. Among economists, she has learned to speak of knowledge and market value in the same sentence. This is certainly a thought that many of her colleagues at the Faculty of Humanities and Education are not entirely familiar with. From a historical perspective, it has not been common to associate knowledge with market value.

“This is all changing now, but in the past humanists were living inside their own bubble in an ivory tower researching about interesting subjects without taking into consideration the demand for humanistic knowledge”, says Whittaker.

She did indeed use the expressions “bubble” and “ivory tower” but emphasises that her choice of words reveals how strongly she wants to underline the matter. She herself has experienced first-hand the different mindsets of humanists and economists.

“I am referring to the past now, but I was introduced to a completely different world and an entirely new mindset when I left linguistic research at university to work at the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) in Bergen. I learned a lot from working closely with economists there”, says Whittaker.

Knowledge and market value

It was at the Norwegian School of Economics that she first heard researchers speak of knowledge and market value. For the linguist, this was Greek. And, in this case, her Latin and Greek literacy could have not been of much use.

The future rector taught herself how to translate the language of finance into “human language”. Not doing so was not an option; she worked at the Norwegian School of Economics for 21 years from the period of 1996 to 2017. She then came to UiA and became dean, scientific director for the researchers at the Faculty of Humanities and Education and, from the beginning of the fall of 2019, the elected rector. 

“The fact that knowledge has a high market value means that knowledge is in demand in society. To create demand, you need to highlight the relevancy of the offer, or market the offer, to say it in financial terms”, says Whittaker

A hybrid rector

She herself is now living proof that combining different fields of study into your professional career can be of great advantage. UiA’s new rector is the academic answer to hybrid cars. She has the ability to switch from humanities to economics where and when it is needed, and vice-versa.

“Each day I am able to profit from both the knowledge I have acquired through the field of humanities and the competence I have gained at the School of Business and Law”, she says.

English and Norwegian

She was born in Trondheim and raised in Canada. Both Norwegian and English are her mother tongues. She later lived and studied in France, as well as in what was once called the Soviet Union.

She has an educational background in French, literature and Russian, and is a qualified interpreter. She reads Tolstoy in Russian and Houellebecq in French. But Austrian Thomas Bernhard she reads in Norwegian; not only because her high school German is rusty, but also because she takes pleasure in reading material translated by Sverre Dahl. Her doctoral dissertation is in French and focuses on linguistic matters, including on how argumentation is integrated into linguistic structures. She then arrived at NHH and studied subjects such as macroeconomics, marketing and organisational theory while she was working.

“Many people choose to take an education in the field of economics and administration to become leaders, but I believe that the field of Humanities should be better at pointing out that a background in human knowledge and cultural competence can also provide relevant leadership experience”, she says.  

Rectorate at UiA 2019-2023

Bilde av rektor Sunniva Whittaker.

Sunniva Whittaker, rector

Professor with a PhD in French Linguistics from UiB. Previous dean at the Faculty of Humanities and Education at UiA, and head of department and deputy rector at the Norwegian School of Economics. 

Bilde av Morten Brekke, viserektor for utdanning.

Morten Brekke, vice rector for education

Assistant professor at the Department of Engineering Sciences. Has been working at UiA since 1993. He received his Cand Scient in theoretical astrophysics from the University of Oslo. In 2018 Brekke was awarded Excellent Teaching Practitioner as the first recipient at UiA.

Bilde av Hans Kjetil Lysgård, viserektor for forsking og tverrfaglege satsingar.

Hans Kjetil Lysgård, vice rector for research and cross-disciplinary efforts

Professor of human geography at the Department of Global Development and Planning at the Faculty of Social Sciences. Dr Polit/PhD from NTNU in 2001. Previous posts have been at NTNU and NORCE/Agderforskning both as researcher and chief adviser. 

Bilde av Gøril Hannås, viserektor for samfunnskontakt og nyskaping.

Gøril Hannås, vice rector for dissemination and innovation 

Associate professor and head of the Department of Working Life and Innovation at the School of Business and Law at UiA. PhD in Logistics from Molde University College. From 2012 to 2016 Hannås was part of the corporate management of National Oilwell Varco Norway.

Friendly and determined

UiA’s new rector is a friendly manager. Those who know her on a personal level say that she is an open and true leader. She is a very good listener. She is interested in what people have to say and wants to involve everyone. Anchoring, anchoring, anchoring, she says.

Whittaker has her own thoughts and opinions, and, because of this, she might disagree with someone’s opinion, but in no occasion is she judgmental or disrespectful towards them. Sunniva Whittaker is a slick boss. One could almost believe that she had attended a management course at the Norwegian School of Business and Law to learn how to create the perfect balance between listening and taking decisions.

“I never pictured myself as being the manager, or the rector, for that matter. I never thought I had the talent to follow that path”, she says.

Maybe it is exactly this tranquil attitude of managing that has made her suitable to be the rector?

War and peace

She takes a special interest in the university’s role in society. Last year she organised a conference in which UiA researchers and professionals from Norway and abroad discussed which roles should researchers in philosophy, literature, history and other fields within humanities have in the public arena.

The conference came in the sequence of the Report to the Storting (white paper), no. 25, 2017, The Humanities in Norway, in which it is emphasized that the field of Humanities must be highlighted in the public sphere.

“We must always be aware that both research and teaching are socially relevant and help to understand and resolve societal problems”, she said at the conference.

One of the key speakers at the conference was American professor Gary Saul Morson, a specialist in Russian literature. With Tolstoy being her favourite author, Whittaker and Morson naturally got along well with each other.

Whittaker had also read Morson’s book, Cents and Sensibility. The book communicates a perspective on collaboration that Whittaker approves of. Morson writes together with an economist, and the professors are interested in what economists and humanists can learn from one another.

Whittaker wishes neither war nor peace between the different subjects and scientific traditions. What she is aiming for is discussion. She wants UiA to become even more involved in the public debate.

“We will not acquire knowledge only to keep it for ourselves. We are an open and inclusive university and we will participate in the discussion of contributing to a better society in several fields. The university has co-creation as its vision, and that vision was one of the reasons why I decided to move to Kristiansand and become dean at UiA”, says Whittaker.

The student in focus

As a rector, she wants to highlight the students and will, among other things, hire a student mentor as her personal advisor. The mentor should keep her informed about what is important to the students. She acquired this idea from the business sector.

“The students should keep up with the subjects they are studying, but as a university it is essential for us to understand the students’ point of view. I am looking forward to working closely with the students”, says Whittaker.

She wants to focus on further developing the cooperation between the business sector and public institutions in the region, and ensure good internships for students from all the different areas of study at the university.

“Internships and other opportunities in the work environment are an important matter to me. Former rector Frank Reichert has done a great job in this area and has laid out a good foundation for us to work on. UiA is a key organisation in the region and we have a goal to highlight ourselves even more in the near future”, says Whittaker.