Danes in dumb dames row

January 23, 1998

A leading Danish historian has been officially endorsed as an external examiner at the country's top universities despite a storm over his view that women have become too dominant in higher education.

A national board of external examiners reversed a recommendation from course supervisors that Thorkild Kjargaard, head of the Frederiksborg Museum, should not be re-appointed when his contract expires in March.

Last March, Mr Kjargaard told the newspaper Politiken: "Women want to be where men are, but men are not attracted by female-dominated courses. As a result, women dominate all courses more and more. This leads to a fall in quality - partly because the assignments done by female students in subjects dominated by women are not ambitious enough. They will not or cannot write about a subject that makes a difference."

Erik Jorgensen, vice-chairman of the national board, said that after course supervisors met in December, the board told Mr Kjargaard that he risked not being re-appointed. "We have not changed our minds," Mr Jorgensen said. "At the meeting we said that we took a very serious view of the matter and considered courses of action, but that was not a decision.

"We cannot have a lack of confidence in the system, however we cannot censor opinions either."

But Niels Lund, course supervisor at the institute of history at the University of Copenhagen, said: "Everyone else left the course supervisors meeting with the impression that Mr Kjargaard would not be re-appointed. We feel that the national board has made fools of us by changing the course supervisors' conclusions."

Aalborg and Roskilde universities declared Mr Kjargaard persona non grata, and Copenhagen, rhus and Odense followed suit.

Mr Kjargaard expects to continue as an examiner, but female teachers and students of history have said that they will ask for an alternative.

"Mr Kjargaard has cast doubts on my qualifications by his comments and has made objective cooperation impossible," said Bente Rosenbak, an associate professor of history at Copenhagen.

Anne Lykke, an assistant professor of history at Copenhagen, said: "That less than 5 per cent of the employees at the institutes of history are women shows how little basis his comments have."

Janne Poulsen, a history student at Aalborg, said: "I would be very insecure if Mr Kjargaard was to assess my work and studies."

Female students at Aalborg are preparing a complaint to the ministry of education, which oversees external examiners. The ministry usually follows the national board's recommendations.

But Mr Lund expects individual universities will exercise their right to refuse to accept an external examiner sent to them.

"If that happens, it will malign my independence and fairness," Mr Kjargaard said. There have been no complaints about Mr Kjargaard's professional qualifications or work as an examiner.

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