Open letter to University of Lapland leaders regarding the end of Professor Lassi Heininen’s contract

After participating in a scientific conference in Russia, on the 8th of May 2024 the University of Lapland terminated the contract with Professor Emeritus Lassi Heininen, being accused of “collaboration with Russia” (see press release:

We, the undersigned members of the international scientific community, express our deep concern about the decision of the University of Lapland to terminate the contract of our esteemed colleague, Professor Emeritus Lassi Heininen. We would like to express our further concern for researchers at the University who may be at risk from decisions made without undergoing due process and that are applied outside of the bounds of reasonability. 

We would like to remind those with decision-making powers at the University of Lapland that scientific work is defined by the autonomy of the researcher in making decisions about the object of research, its methods, approaches, and place of conducting research, as well as the dissemination of research results. Consequently, the decision to terminate the contract on the grounds of Professor Heininen's participation in a scientific event held by an international organization situated in Russia contradicts the basic principles of academic freedom and appears to be in direct violation thereof. Furthermore, it is important to note that the recommendations published by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture from 9. March 2022 only target institutions to refrain from cooperation with Russian partner organizations, but that they do not address individual-level cooperation with Russia. Professor Heininen’s actions have therefore been in accordance with the recommendations provided by the Ministry. Climate change and other environmental issues such as transboundary pollution or the protection of biodiversity are urgent matters that, as the Arctic governance regime clarifies, requires scientific cooperation to solve, which is also highlighted by the legally binding 2017 Agreement on Enhancing International Arctic Scientific Cooperation to which Finland is party of. Thus, the attendance of Professor Heininen at an Arctic scientific conference reflects both the basic principles of science and environmental governance including its protection and development objectives. 

In making this statement, we emphasize our condemnation of Russia’s unprovoked and criminal aggression against independent Ukraine. At the same time, we believe that the war in Ukraine shall not serve as an obstacle to maintaining the necessary level of scientific cooperation in the Arctic. This has been recognized both on the political level and by the scientific community emphasized by activities such as the Arctic Council's decision to resume project activities and interaction within the framework of the Council’s working groups and further; the reinstigation of projects spanning a full Arctic perspective by both the UArctic and the International Arctic Social Science Association (IASSA), amongst others. These difficult decisions were taken not in the interests of Russia or any other Arctic state, but in the interest of the Arctic peoples and in global interests. As highlighted by the Arctic experts, the research on climate change and its social consequences are severely hindered without scientific cooperation with Russia. Professor Heininen's participation in the event organized by the Russian side is part of the inevitable cooperation which is occuring in academic communities across the Arctic and beyond in order to meet global challenges.

Therefore, we believe that the administration of the University of Lapland has made an unreasonable, hasty and erroneous decision based on unclear justification, in a non-transparent and non-inclusive way. It will have a negative impact on the image of the University of Lapland as a leading European center for Arctic studies. Furthermore, such a waste of intellectual resources will jeopardize the academic careers of current and potential doctoral students who are conducting research and writing theses under the supervision of Professor Heininen.

Dr Nikolas Sellheim    Contact the author of the petition

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