Conferences strengthen ties to Sweden

Brian Bakst

Recently 45 Swedish visitors packed University President Nils Hasselmo’s Morrill Hall office. Hasselmo, a Swedish native, felt right at home.
The visitors were repaying an earlier visit by Hasselmo. In August, Hasselmo and an entourage of 30 University alumni toured Sweden as part of the celebration of 150 years of Swedish immigration to America.
On Sunday Hasselmo delivered the opening address at a conference focusing on immigration co-hosted by the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and the Swedish Institute of Future Studies.
The conference, which continues today, features panel discussions and speeches by academics and prominent American and Swedish politicians, including New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani.
Ties between Sweden and Minnesota historically have been strong; the state also witnessed a visit from Sweden’s royal couple, King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia. Although the pair bypassed the University during its two-day Minnesota tour, Hasselmo said he cannot overemphasize the importance of maintaining old ties and forming new ones between the University and his native country.
The connections between Scandinavia and the University have a long history. The Minnesota Legislature passed a bill in 1883 requiring the University to offer courses in Scandinavian languages and literature.
The University today offers a variety of Scandinavian-oriented courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels. More than 75 students are pursuing graduate degrees, and 130 undergraduates are working toward a major or minor in the Department of German, Scandinavian and Dutch. The department is a result of a merger between the German and Scandinavian departments in 1995.
“It is interesting how many young Scandinavian-Americans take a great interest in discovering their past,” Hasselmo said.
The number of Minnesotans who qualify as “Scandinavian-American” is large. More than 1.2 million Swedes immigrated to America between 1845 and the late 1920s, 280,000 of whom came to Minnesota. At the turn of the century, the Cedar-Riverside area near the West Bank campus boasted a large concentration of Swedish immigrants. Today, more than 500,000 Minnesotans are reported to have Swedish ancestors.
Hasselmo immigrated to America in 1938, when he began his post-secondary education at Augustana College in Illinois. He eventually continued his education at Harvard University in Massachusetts.
He came to the University as an associate professor of Scandinavian Languages and Literature in 1965, and took over as University president in 1989.
Though he has spent most of his life in the United States, Hasselmo has remained interested in the relationship between the United States and Sweden. Immigration has become a controversial topic in America and abroad. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Saturday that tightens immigration rules and includes provisions that make it easier to deport illegal immigrants.
Issues such as the impact of immigration on a country’s economy and communities are two of the many questions surrounding immigration that will be addressed at the conference.
On Oct. 17 Hasselmo will be the keynote speaker at a conference examining Swedish life in the Twin Cities. The four-day conference is hosted by the American Swedish Institute and the Minnesota Historical Society.
Because Hasselmo envisions the University as part of a global economy, he is devoted to forging educational partnerships with his native Sweden, he said.
The University has a “tremendous responsibility in developing Minnesota’s international competence and international networking,” he said, adding that the similarities between Sweden and Minnesota make for an ideal relationship. Both rely on forestry as a vital part of their economies, for example.
Both also have a vested interest in medical and information technology, Hasselmo said. Information technology, which makes up one-fifth of the University’s $244 million biennial budget request, involves the use of computers and other technological inventions to drive education and society.
Hasselmo said one example of a partnership in education is the faculty exchange program between Karolingska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, and the University’s medical school.
Another cooperative program that has been developed during Hasselmo’s time as president is the Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership. The College of Natural Resources and the College of Education collaborated with Link”ping and Nork”ping universities of Sweden to develop the exchange program for students, faculty and public school teachers.
This summer, the program’s inaugural year, 20 Swedes came to Minnesota to discuss environmental issues. Next year a group from the University will make the trip to Sweden.
Steven Daley-Laursen, assistant dean of the College of Natural Resources and program co-founder, said environmental issues must be studied on a global level and this program is the first step. “Global health depends on people working across boundaries,” he said. During his August visit to Sweden, Hasselmo spoke about the University at a conference in Stockholm.
As global economies change and interact, universities do also. Some Scandinavian universities are reforming to become more like American universities by relying on aid from private sources as well as government funding, Hasselmo said. He added that Scandinavian universities currently “are very centralized” and that government agencies play a large role in running them.
Expansion of information technologies and attempts to address the needs of various constituencies are two goals of their reforms, Hasselmo said, adding that both areas are important at the University also. “There are aspects of what we do that they feel they want to do in their universities,” he added.
Coincidentally, the Uppsala University in Uppsala, Sweden, is revamping its undergraduate system. The program’s name? “UU2000.”
“I should claim copyright infringement,” Hasselmo joked. Hasselmo’s plan for restructuring the University is called University 2000, or U2000.