Women leaders in management and research at Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania
In September 2020, the Council of Vytautas Magnus University (VMU) elected a new leadership, which started its five-years new term in October
New management teams at VMU
In September 2020, the Council of Vytautas Magnus University (VMU) elected a new leadership, which started its five-years new term in October. Professor Juozas Augutis was re-elected for the position of the Rector. The good news in terms of gender equality and women's representation is that the Council also approved a female vice-Rectors team. For the second term in a row, three women were elected to the vice-rector positions, with prof. Dr. Julija Kiršienė appointed as the Vice-rector for Research for the second term. The Vice-Rector for Studies became Dr. Simona Pilkienė, and the Vice-Rector for communication – assoc. prof. Vilma Bijeikienė. In addition, two more women were elected to the small Rector’s Council: prof. Lina Kaminskienė became the Chancellor of Education Academy and prof. Astrida Miceikienė – the Chancellor of Agriculture Academy. Consequently, five of the new small Rector’s Council members are women with strong leadership qualities.
Besides, the new VMU Council was elected in December 2020. It is a collegial governing body, which, after evaluating the proposals of the Senate, approves the vision and mission of the University, the strategic action plan submitted by the Rector, the procedure for organizing the Rector's election by public tender, reorganization or liquidation plans of the University, determines the management of university funds and assets, etc. The University Council consists of 11 members for five years and has an increased number of women. Compared to only one woman in the previous Council, this term, there are four women representatives. On December 2, 2020, Diana Vilytė, the Head of State Enterprise Centre of Registers, was approved as the new Chair of VMU Council. Three other female members of the Council, elected by the academic staff at VMU, are Auksė Balčytienė, Professor of the VMU Faculty of Political Science and Diplomacy, Rūta Petrauskaitė, Professor of the Faculty of Humanities, and Vilma Žydžiūnaitė, Professor of the Academy of Science.
The unity and well-being of the University's community is a priority.
The new Rector’s Council is set for a new term to unite the community to achieve jointly formulated goals, open opportunities to realize new ambitions in research and interdisciplinary studies, and create a more outstanding balance in self-governance and shared responsibility for quality. “Every voice in our community must be heard”, the Rector Augutis declares.
Furthermore, the Rector admits that the VMU community faces many challenges in these uneasy times. There is a lot of anxiety about the future, a great deal of external and internal bureaucracy, a lack of unity and communication with each other. Therefore, as the newly formed Rector’s Council envisions, it is essential to strive for better results in studies and research and enhance everyone's working /studying conditions, guaranteeing that every community member feels empowered to pursue their goals. "VMU must remain an institution, where diversity is valued, and the principles of academic ethics, equal opportunities and social responsibility are respected by all", states the Rector.
This is also apparent in the new VMU strategic plan for 2021–2027, as the new Rector’s Council is committed to engaging University's community by not only encouraging its members to strive for better results in studies and research but also by creating more favourable conditions and equal opportunities for achieving them. Previously director of VMU Studies Department, dr. Simona Pilkienė is a member of a new team. She starts in her new position with such an attitude: "The position of the Vice-Rector for Studies requires leadership, so I hope that I will be able to contribute to the successful achievement of the new strategic goals of the University. […] My goal is to be listening to the opinion of the community and make the decisions together with our community members", says Dr. Pilkienė in an interview, published in October 2020. According to the new Vice-Rector for Studies, it is important to communicate, negotiate and make the best decisions for the University together with the community. Working groups with different representatives will develop a new strategic plan and various programs for the University's future, and the key to its success is to listen to different voices and current needs. Hence, the new Rector’s Council is already working on the implementation of regular surveys and the new enhanced collection of data, as well as the community's feedback about their experiences and well-being at VMU.
In the new term, even more attention will be paid to ensuring the principles of equal opportunities, so that every member of the VMU community, regardless of their gender, race, nationality, citizenship, language, social status, religion, beliefs or views, has the same opportunities for realization and self-expression. Currently, Vytautas Magnus University is preparing a Gender Equality Plan, which, among other things, will focus on enhancing working conditions, enabling flexible working schedules and ensuring a better family/work balance, especially for those raising small children. Also, the SPEAR project team will help to set up new guidelines for creating a more sustainable, safe, socio-psychologically pleasant working/studying environment by drafting new documents, leading communication campaigns, organizing seminars and trainings.
A multilingual policy specialist assoc. prof. Vilma Bijeikienė has joined the Rector’s Council as a newly elected Vice-Rector for Communication. Having high expertise and a lot of international experience at foreign universities (University of Bergen, University of Manchester, Fordham University in New York and Creighton University in Omaha), assoc. prof. Bijeikienė is applying her broad knowledge and skills at VMU. In her leading role for developing a new, community-friendly strategic plan for 2021-2027, Vice-Rector for Communication assoc. prof. Vilma Bijeikienė is currently gathering various working groups related to community building questions, diversity, equality, and equal opportunities.
Artes liberals principles at VMU
Another fundamental goal for the newly elected Rector’s Council, according to the Vice-Rector for Studies dr. Pilkienė, is to strengthen the implementation of the principles of artes liberales in the study process. The ideals of artes liberales have been University's distinctive characteristic with the liberal principles, allowing a lot of flexibility and freedom of choice for the students. Dr. Pilkienė is convinced that University must maintain its progressive character and liberal values, creating space for creative thought, focusing on the quality of studies and research, interdisciplinarity, establishing successful international relations, etc. Importantly, she suggests, the concept of artes liberales studies at VMU should be strengthened by constructing broad programs so that the students can choose their own routes gradually, after getting more acquainted with the University and a broader field of studies of their choice without haste. Such a model would undoubtedly be more favourable to the students by way of allowing more time for making specific choices and by providing the students with knowledge that is much wider and of greater value. This also goes hand in hand with the University's aim for multidisciplinary and multi-directionality, bringing together the best scientific and academic potential; it would perfectly reflect the principles of artes liberales not only on a theoretical but also on concrete, practical level. That might also help attract more students, whose numbers have been steadily growing for the past several years, Dr. Pilkienė suggests. "We very much hope that the results of this year's admission will not only be maintained, but also improved, but this will require a lot of purposeful work," reveals the Vice-Rector for Studies in a conversation about the changes in studies to be implemented at the University.
Being one of the strongest universities in Lithuania, VMU ranks second in terms of student numbers, rising for two years in a row despite demographic challenges. As the Vice-Rector for Studies dr. Pilkienė suggests, in order to improve international rankings, VMU needs to implement only the highest quality study programs, which both Lithuanian and international students would value. The aim is that students would want to return and continue their studies at VMU at the postgraduate level – master and doctoral studies.
International success and leadership
Vice-Rector for research prof. Julija Kiršienė states that in the field of research, the aim is to strengthen the internationality of research by establishing research institutes in priority fields of science. According to her, it is equally important to foster international doctoral studies of high quality at VMU. Previously the Dean of the Faculty of Law and a VMU Senate member, professor of Law Julija Kiršienė is internationally engaged (takes part in international scientific research projects) and has a broader perspective on internalising research and research funding. One of the highest priorities for the new Rector’s Council, according to her, is increasing research funding in Lithuania (currently, it is only 0.9% of GDP, which is significantly less than the EU average (2.5%). Professor Kiršienė and the new Rector’s Council also envisages increasing the influence and visibility of the University by further strengthening cooperation with government and business structures. For University to produce more research of high quality, it is essential to increase collaboration between science and business, facilitate University's participation in Lithuanian and European academic and cultural life, foster engagement, and collaborate with society in general.
However, for achieving the goals of excellence and compete with other foreign and Lithuanian universities, the values of the community's well-being should not lose their importance. Striving for international acknowledgement and distinction, the University is preparing a Gender Equality Plan (GEP) which will help to put more focus on anti-discriminatory policy measures, transparency in the admission process, fairness and equal treatment. Moreover, as all the Vice-Rectors agree, for strengthening the position of the University, it is important to empower young researchers, especially – young female researchers, in their early career paths. One of the measures of GEP is to support female researchers by counselling, ensuring better working conditions, improving the organizational climate, etc. One concrete action, Gender-sensitive PhD supervision guidelines, is being prepared as part of the GEP and in accordance with the new Strategic Plan of VMU. Ensuring better conditions for family-work balance, paying more attention to sociopsychological well-being, arranging social climate surveys, focusing on human rights and values of equality are definitely stand as advantages in both national and international competition for excellence.
With the start of 2021, it is clear that the new Rector’s Council, where the majority of leaders are professional women will focus on mobilizing the University community, fostering values and democratic principles, enhancing the conditions for balancing personal and institutional responsibilities, improving self-governance and collaboration, creating better conditions and ensuring equal opportunities. Equal opportunities and gender equality are among the priorities for the next five years for University's leadership, which means that a lot of positive change can be expected in the near future.
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