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Mats Arwidson retires after 40 years at LiU

After 40 years at Linköping University, it is time for Deputy University Director Mats Arwidson to retire.

Mats Arwidson outside OrigoThe son of a small businessman and a budding academic – the first in his family – he boarded the single coach train from Oskarshamn to Linköping to begin his university studies. The year was 1968.

“Since then I have been here at LiU, except for four years as head of Radio Östergötland at the end of the ‘70s,” Mr Arwidson says.

He seems pleased with that. 40 years at the same workplace but with a long list of varying jobs that never made his work repetitive or dull. Quite the contrary.

A quick look at all his jobs – on top of his studies in history, Nordic languages and literature – shows he began his career at the library and finished as Deputy University Director and expert consultant. In that time he has been a student counsellor, teacher, head of department in the then Department of Nordic Languages and Swedish, Chief Information Officer, Faculty Director and senior administrator. In recent years he has also been a part of the innermost circles of the University leadership.

The local radio job though, what was that like?
“They rang me up and asked if I wanted to take charge there. I had given a few talks on communication for them, so that’s probably why. So I said I would do it.”

That decision meant him jumping off the academic career path. A half-completed doctoral thesis on stylistics was mothballed, where it remained.

Four years later he received another telephone call, this time from Linköping University.

“They asked if I would like to work as chief communications officer. So I did that.”

Mats Arwidson at his desk in Origo BuildingHis account of those telephone conversations is concise; Mr Arwidson does not seem to be one to brag.
On the other hand, he lights up and becomes enthusiastically verbose when talking about the university and its development.

What was the best thing?

“Ha! I knew that question was coming. It’s the overall journey, to be part of the development of the university through my different jobs. A first phase, for example, was the development of the Department of Thematic Studies. I learned a great deal from that. I learned a lot about working with development issues, about the importance of investigating and concretising proposals and decisions, and how to drive issues forward. Well, how to get changes happening in academic life in general, which is not simple.”

Not normally, anyway. Mr Arwidson also emphasizes that the spirit of cooperation has been characteristic of Linköping University. Cooperation both inside and outside the university. This spirit has led to it being easier to change and develop our work. The development of Campus Norrköping at the end of the 1990’s is one such example.

“That was probably the most exciting phase of my years here. We worked in a concrete fashion, with a broad collaboration, and the results were startlingly good. I think we have been skilled at driving issues forward at the university.

Frame with a diploma: honorary member in StuFF “But another task was the most fun,” he mentions during the course of the interview. “Contact with the students.”

Over the years, Mr Arwidson has been the ears of the university management among the students; his commitment has been widely appreciated.

“It has been so rewarding to work together with the students. Uncomplicated and great fun. And I am an honorary member of all three students unions.”

He looks out through the window at Origo. It’s rather empty of students out there, as they have begun to head off for the summer.

“But every year, the second week in August, they begin to return. First come the international students with their kit-bags, then gradually all the others. It has been a fantastic feeling, getting to work in a university and being a part of it. And I have always particularly felt that each year while watching the students arrive.”

He also mentions contacts he has had with the trades unions, and working environment issues for the employees.

“It might sound a bit clichéd to say that working with people is very rewarding, but I just think it’s fun chatting to people.

But there is a more serious side to this ‘chatting with people’.

“I think it is absolutely necessary for the university that we create really good conditions for study and a good working environment, basically decent conditions in general for students and staff. The most important thing is to make sure that people are doing well.”

His responsibilities will now be shared between 4-5 people, at the least. It would be impossible for one person to do all that he does today with his experience and knowledge. If, for example, the switchboard get a question and they don’t know who they should refer to, there is a special note pinned up: ‘Call Mats Arwidson’.

He is 67 years old and officially retired since March, but still working from home on an enquiry about the structure of University Services that will be finished in August.

“When that is finished I will mentally cut the cord. You have to. Then I will begin another life.”

Before that happens, he has a few words to say about the University and its future.

“Cooperation and collaboration must be the bywords for us if we want to continue being successful. The competition for researchers and students is fierce. We mustn't get caught in the trap of thinking ‘everything's going great’. It’s not a question of just managing things, but rather we have to work together to develop the university further. Our Vice-Chancellor has many excellent ideas and opinions on this, and there are many other insightful people working in that direction.”

He and his wife will probably move to Stockholm where their two sons live with their families, and where four grandchildren await them. Not just grandchildren; incidentally, there is also a capital city with a sea of stimulation and culture – not least classical music, something Mr Arwidson loves. And there will be travel.

“Next week Maria and I are going to Germany on a wine tasting trip.”


Text: Eva Bergstedt
Photo: Charlotte Perhammar


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Last updated: 2014-06-27