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A very relevant metaphor holds that “attitude is a lot like pregnancy, you can try to hide it but eventually, it will come out.” Despite mounting complaints by blacks, foreigners, foresighted Finns and recently international reports, Finland has often understated racism to keep its positive international reputation. Recall that in 2018, the Being Black in the EU report labelled Finland as one of the most racist countries in the EU.
True to itself and the situation, the government might have decided to act than react. In 2021, there is almost unanimity in the Finnish policy circles that racism should be spoken against openly because it is a real impediment to the progress of a small country that finds internationalisation as an important pathway. Diaspora Glitz Magazine (DGM)’s ongoing study since two months ago with members and stakeholders of the Finnish academia and listening to the life stories of some Africans and foreign academics, correlates and coincides with structural discrimination whose fight programme has been approved on 28 October 2021, within Prime Minister Sana Marin’s “Equal Finland” Programme.
Many observers point for immediate action, a shocking phenomenon of some Finnish Universities, Finland’s first window to the world, where some of the deeply entrenched structural prejudices and discriminations occur. These Finnish ivory towers, are often fraught with several reports of maltreatment, structural racism and discrimination against blacks and generally foreign academics in work contracts, research funding, working conditions, etc “but the lay public is often bereft of these,” said a participant.
Short Contracts (the plight and place of blacks and foreign academics)
Short contracts seemed to be the most prominent issue of concern in the ongoing study by DGM. According to an enlightened victim “Fixed-term and Short Contract” is a terrible labour practice in most Finnish Universities. It does not reflect the dignity and esteem held for academics as a respected professional corps around the world, talkless of a knowledge economy like Finland. It is an element of cheap labour, exploitation and employee vulnerability. It is used to discriminate against academics of certain backgrounds, especially blacks and foreigners, said this participant. It is supposed to be a process leading to permanent recruitment but the extent to which Finnish academic employers finally recruit permanently especially foreigners and blacks is a thing of great concern.
One huge and ethical consequence is that short and fixed-term contracts turn out to be ”a very systematic” manner to hijack projects of these blacks and foreigners and give to Finns. Whenever you have a succeeding project, they refuse to give you another short contract as a strategy for you to leave the project. They tell you legally that your contract has ended ”go away, there is no money” and they hand it to Finns. In most cases, when you try to argue, it is the lawyers they direct you to. The University now starts looking up to the brilliance of its lawyers. A victim opined that short contracts are used by the universities “as a grinding machine,” to “grind intellectuals in and out of the University” e.g squeeze publications in difficult working conditions. “It is so stressful and an impossible working condition.” When you have e.g a six months contract, there are only 3 months to rest, the next three you start looking and applying.
Most times, when the Universities have used the employee for several contracts, they send him/her away. Most foreign academics do not even know when they qualify for permanent recruitment. There are very rare cases where the worker especially a foreigner or black gets a permanent contract; a subject of a more comprehensive survey DGM envisages to carry out. It is good to note that a minority of Finns face these too (short contract) but prefer to remain quiet since they easily get ”Finnish speaking jobs” elsewhere which foreigners cannot.
In the past decade, authorities have been questioning why several foreign academics left Finland. DGM was told, there could be a few success stories of those who received good treatment and decided to remain but a majority either leave immediately after Ph.D defence or after several trials with short contracts. The direction of the black Ph.Ds after Finland was said to be the US, UK, Canada and South Africa. Many who dare to remain were said to engage in other low skill level jobs such as cleaning, food distribution at Wolt, newspaper distribution and taxi driving and because of this, Finland is beginning to lose its foreign and black academic talents today, even to nearby Sweden; “in crucial areas like life sciences.”
One participant said “it is a state of career regression” that’s why I am leaving for Canada.” DGM’s investigation however captured certain Finnish Universities such as the University of Vaasa which was recurrently cited to have about 30% of its staff being foreigners, “because of its talent retention and foreigner-friendly practices.”
Story of the year: project hijack, open human (black) exploitation at the University of Turku
The trajectory of ill-treatment of black academics reached a crescendo when a Cameroonian born researcher; Dr Doh was recently and unjustly disengaged by the University of Turku just when the University got a €4 million funding from the Ministry of Education, Finland, for a project, the Finland Africa Platform for Innovation (FAPI). The FAPI was openly known to have been intelligently conceived, nurtured and brought to fruition by this black African, Dr Doh. This was after 3 years Dr Doh had been struggling to build the project. Dr Doh had been given seven stressful short contracts and promised in several written and unwritten forms that he will have a sustainable working condition after the project gets reasonable funding. When the project eventually got the €4 million funding (DGM learned his salary was intended in the submitted budget draft) the University ejected him in March 2021, two weeks before the official start of the project and handed it to a Finn. The project was extended as a national pilot, 27 Universities and AMKs (about 40 more people all Finns) joined. The only person who could no longer join his project was the black man who kick-started and nurtured the project.
The name “FAPI” itself is coined by Dr Doh, it began as a personal initiative, from a personal bridge grant, DGM was told. There are important questions such as the “FAPI has gotten funding and it is about to go operational, the only person they ejected in the conceiving team is the black person who created and nurtured the project?” Then over 40 representatives from 27 Universities and AMKs (all white) joined the platform “nobody says anything?” Read more https://fapi.utu.fi/
DGM contacted those aware of the project and they testified that Dr Doh was the key person who canvassed and convinced the University and MINEDU on FAPI. The latter then proposed it as one of its pilots; “University only later provided the institutional coverage.” However, the status as civil servants and respect for the University´s autonomy ” restricted many of the MINEDU officials to intervene directly in this unethical situation.
One senior Adviser at MINEDU who replied to the email of DGM said the activities of higher education institutions are based on extensive autonomy and the freedom of science. These comprise the right to make decisions on matters related to internal administration. One expert criticised the silence as a selective interpretation of the University (autonomy) act in Finland. “Autonomy does not mean that University does just anything.” They work together, there should be some structure to checkmate the University to correct such unethical behaviours. He narrated that the Ministry was aware of at least five of such foreigner reports as Dr Doh’s (including an American) who are removed when a project succeeds or gets funding “but the Ministry could not intervene directly.”
DGM is told Minister Li Anderson, Minister of Education who launched the FAPI in 2019 had asked the concerned ministry and experts to look at this issue, which apparently did not look nice but no response ever trickled back to the victim, Dr Doh.
Prominent Ethiopian Scientist, Professor of Innovation and Technology Studies at the Tshwane University of Technology, Professor Mammo Muchie who was at the genesis of the FAPI project, testified in a letter in May 2021 that the victim, Dr Doh “is an internationally-connected and trusted person.”He thanked and congratulated MINEDU for adopting the wonderful project but said the attitude of UTU could destroy the brilliance and innovative and hardworking attitude of an African (Dr Doh), which led to the success of the project. The outspoken Professor described the situation “as an unheard shame and paradox of the 21st century.” He saw Dr Doh´s removal, from an African project conceived by him as an insult and disrespect to Africans, calling on the international community to condemn this open act of discrimination with vehemence. He also felt that an open apology to the victim, Dr Doh, “helps.”
In like manner, DGM was informed by sources close to the story at UTU that the Labour Union had described the situation “as very unethical behaviour of a University.” The Labour Union was therefore calling on UTU to fix this matter as soon as possible and to respect its promises, moral and ethical standards as an academic institution.
DGM learned that the Labour Union found sufficient legal evidence that UTU continued to use the victim Dr Doh permanently in between the seven contracts (months he did not have a contract) as “free labour” This (according to our sources) required a permanent contract. DGM learned the Labour Union has in all its correspondences asked UTU to respect the employment act in Finland by giving Dr Doh’s right to permanent recruitment at UTU.
International Researchers should be mindful of the contract they sign
DGM was reliably told by sources in the University that one of the issues raised by the Labour Union in Dr Doh”s case was the inconsistency between job titles and the actual assignment of Dr Doh. It had been written in almost all the seven contracts that Dr Doh was a postdoctoral researcher meanwhile most of the work he did was on the FAPI. Such that when the University wanted to seize the project, they said, he was doing only research, whose contract finished (as per the title).
But if according to the employment act he was doing only research for three years with seven contracts, he is more than qualified for permanent recruitment. When it came to the latter, the University said he had also been given other assignments in the contract, but escaped it was FAPI. Whatever the content of the contracts was, many observers felt it was too opportunistic and unethical for the university to hijack all Dr Doh had created beyond the limited research contracts, without giving him any compensation, career continuity.
Explanations at the University of Turku
In the course of this study, DGM sent an email to four key persons namely; the Rector of the University of Turku, the Director of Development Services, the Head of Cooperation at UTU and the boss of Dr Doh hear their version but none of the four persons replied.
Finland-Africa Platform for Sustainable Development Goal 9 (Innovation) convenes key stakeholders to deliberate on practical steps towards the achievement of SDG9 – AAU Participates #AAU #SDG https://t.co/CZUfJS5pRB pic.twitter.com/v7seQDOURO
— AAU – Official Account (@AAU_67) August 28, 2019
Someone who is aware of the matter said some representatives and staff of UTU had earlier asked the authorities, if “Dr Doh had done anything wrong, DGM was informed that the Director of Development Services at UTU Riitta Mustonen said “that was not the case” stating the decision to remove Dr Doh “was an unpleasant one” but it was mostly motivated by “lack of sufficient funds.” Some observers debunked this “as the normal rhetoric for seizing foreigner projects.”
Another specific story is told of another African (name withheld) who was told there was no money to renew his contract in a project he conceived and nurtured. He left for Namibia. A few months later, he clicked the website and to his greatest shock, he found that a Finnish girl he was asked earlier to train had been contracted to lead the project.
DGM had the impression that many at UTU did not appreciate this unethical treatment of Dr Doh. Many had sent him private emails and texts apologising. Several invited him for meetings to sympathise. A respondent who pleaded anonymity suspected that Dr Doh was a victim of a transition between two Rectors who had different visions.
This refers to former Rector Kalervo (with whom Dr Doh initiated FAPI, who loved and promoted it so much) and a new Rector, Jukka Kola “who went often allegedly questioning if the African projects could work.” DGM was told that former Rector Kalervo had strongly recommended that African alumni living in Finland be included in the FAPI project but the team felt to hijack the project and operate it otherwise. The ability for Finns to run foreigner-related projects without involving the concerned is another topical issue in Finland. Interestingly, another participant stated that Dr Doh was simply a victim of “an all-powerful Rector.”
This participant interviewed a few days ago, opined that perhaps a decade after, it’s about time to “review, re-regulate” the Universities act in Finland. Citing the recent dismissal of a Rector on 01 November 2021 at Abo Akademi, who allegedly became ” too sticky” to her “unchangeable differing leadership views,” this autonomy might have been misconstrued to produce “too strong Rectors.” “They do not listen to anybody (their collaborators, “even board chair cannot intervene) and would prefer to fall in such mess and use lawyers.” Some remarked legal or institutional advantage of the university will not solve this issue. Some asked the University to face Dr Doh directly and amicably solve this issue.
The Labour Union itself (DGM is told) became disappointed at the university’s defiance, a source said. “In an unethical case which has clear implications for the University’s reputation and even Finland.” If there is a legal window, the university exploits to its advantage, this is open and systematic human exploitation, which is illegal and does not befit Finland, said one source.
The source also stated that Jussi Jauhianen, the immediate supervisor of Dr Doh, the proponent of the 7 ridiculous short contracts, should have stood firm behind Dr Doh but he never did. DGM was informed, the last days of Dr Doh were tough as he was asked to teach for “free (without salary) or he leaves the department.
A friendly colleague of Dr Doh in the FAPI presented another correspondence by the Head of Cooperation at UTU, Irinja Paakkanen which was explaining to Dr Doh that “The University of Turku is reforming its activities related to Africa by joining or coordinating several Africa related activities. Part of this process means redefining the tasks of already employed permanent staff.”
An expert interpreted the statement to mean the consequence that because of the ongoing reforms, Dr Doh’s conceived and nurtured project with the 4 million euros be transferred to permanent staff, a Finn. Again this argument about seizing a succeeding project from a fixed-term black worker to hand to a permanent worker (Finn) was seriously debunked by the expert as a “serious violation of the human rights of the fixed-term worker to have a career dream from something he/she creates “a total hijack.” According to the expert, “this action of the University did not make any logic since it means that the job task of the permanent worker is now determined by what the fixed-term worker has created.” The expert called it a “systematic human exploitation.” He further said that if these practices are not checked, they are likely to demotivate creative thinking, demoralise foreigners and fixed-term academic employees in iFinland.
Another victim of structural racism from one of the Universities said he wanted to take his university to court on a similar matter but since he got a new job a friend advised him to drop the move. A postdoctoral researcher from Central Africa shared his view on the subject matter. According to him, “Job preference is given to the Finns, the EU citizens and then people from other Western countries like the US, UK and Canada. The African academics fall under the last category. He said he doubts if there’s any African academic who is permanently employed in the Finnish Academia. He pointed out that African academics are not rewarded as they should. “They always give them short term contracts. Africans are the least in the classification table, even academics from Asia are ahead of us” he stated.
Another African lecturer from another University also narrated his ordeal. The fellow who had been working with the University for more than ten years was on a research holiday when the University terminated his contract. He pointed out that the University took him unaware; they acted against the employment act.
The discrimination of people of African descent is also prevalent in other institutions and organizations. This year, a culture producer from Nigeria, Oge Oguejiofor Eneh was laid off illegally according to the Labour Union’s lawyer. Oge, who worked for Caisa Culture Centre, Helsinki Culture organisation for 18.5 years used her talent & skills to develop tools & methods to educate multicultural art education to kindergarten children, school children, youths and women. Her exploits at the Caisa Culture Centre got her an invitation to a Presidential dinner during the Finnish independence celebration.
Academia Injustice and health of academics
Finally, DGM contacted the year’s victim Dr Doh but the latter declined to comment in-depth because his case was still pending with the Labour Union. When asked about his state and next steps, he remarked that ” such hijack, disappointment and open discrimination can have direct effects on our health.” The capacity for people he trusted to join lawyers to twist information about a project he sacrificed for, openly (with photos, videos, human testimonies, tweeter, internet and everywhere) shocked and eventually depressed him. He explained ever since the incident occurred, he has developed a kind of fear-phobia, “each time he thinks of creating a new project,” it feels like it will be hijacked.”
As of last week, he was still waiting to talk with a medical specialist. Seeing that Dr Doh could get disillusioned, a leader of an African Community in Finland had sent a mail asking members of the community to keep in touch with Dr Doh, a very dynamic member who did not only excel in scientific project building but also sports such as football for the migrant and Finnish community. Dr Doh however promised he will try to “forgive-forget” in other to bounce back in his creative life but this does not preclude taking such injustice to its logical and legal ends. He cited Bob Marley’s concept of “mental slavery” or Nelson Mandela “mind imprisonment” for wrong things some people do to others. He said for close to 20 years in Finland, he had developed a very solid and trustworthy relationship with his Finnish friends and colleagues (even at UTU), who was still keeping in touch professionally and socially. In addition to the foreigner and African community, Dr Doh equally thanked Finnish friends and colleagues for the moral support they gave him during this trying moment.
Plan of action: why you should sign this petition
For a couple of weeks now, the treatment of foreigners has been in the news highlight. There are several victims of structural discrimination, especially foreigners and people of colour. This unspoken malaise continues to pile up inside academia. A petition at Change.org has been initiated for Finnish authorities (Ministries of Education, Science and Culture, Social Affairs, employment and the Rector’s conference) to be followed by protest before the Finnish Parliament on a date that will be announced. The reform issues are summarised in a separate document. We ensure also that justice is done in the current horrible case of the victim Dr Doh, his right to permanent recruitment (according to the specialised organisations respected) and open apologies made. Workers rights are human rights!