Professor (emeritus) Heikki Halila, you have had a long career in the Faculty of Law (employed 15.9.1975-31.5.2020), first as a student advisor and project planner for study programme reforms as well as in different teaching positions, and lastly as a professor of private law. You are interested in the history of the Finnish bar and law, and have published many articles on these topics in the Lakimies- and Lakimiesuutiset-journals.
How has the staff composition of the Faculty changed during your career?
In 1975, six women completed their doctorate in law and the only female professor of law in Finland was employed in our Faculty. Now, out of 31 professors in the Faculty nine are women, and the share of women in other teaching positions is even higher. Of the new doctoral candidates the majority is already female. In 1975, on the fifth floor of Porthania, close to my office, was the office of American professor Wheeler. She was a visiting researcher at the Faculty for a few months. Nigerian Maurice Andem, whom I met during my studies, was at the time completing his doctorate and defended in 1979. They were the only foreigners at the time and few of the Faculty staff had spent long periods abroad. Many had of course contacts abroad. Today, particularly on the 6th floor you can often hear more English conversations than Finnish. Furthermore, the majority of researchers is interested in more than just law studies.
Have you followed the changes in the numbers of completed Phds and their publication language?
In the Lakimies journal, we have since 1946 reported on the major changes of every decade in terms of Finnish doctors of law, who are alive. Since 1986, the publication of this report has been my responsibility. The last one was completed with Ville Pönkä. These reports are a fascinating read. In the years 2006-2015 225 persons completed their doctorates, on average 22,5 per year. In the period 1966-1975 only 32 doctorates were completed, 3,2 per year. The numbers of persons alive with a doctorate degree has risen significantly from 90 in 1975 to 495 in 2015. At present the number is close to 600. Many factors contribute to this major increase. The conditions for research have improved and the requirement for a completed licenciate degree has been removed. More and more continue to work on the same topic as in their master thesis and the best master degrees are of a very high quality – much better than in the past, when there were no advanced special project courses available. At the same time, the requirements for a doctoral degree have decreased as part of the performance based management system. Moreover, also the language of doctorates has changed. Today, approximately half of all doctoral thesis are written in another language than Finnish or Swedish. Partially this is due to the increase in foreign students. To compare, in 1966-1975 only two doctorates were not written in Finnish or Swedish, but in German.
How has the profile of doctoral candidates and teaching staff changed in the Faculty, particularly from a gender perspective?
The biggest change has certainly been that women have increasingly applied for doctoral studies despite the gender prejudices that were prevalent in the legal profession in the last decades. As a consequence, women have started to fill a wide variety of roles within the legal profession. For a long time, there had been no women’s or men’s legal tasks.
Subsequently, women have also pursued doctoral studies and different tasks within the Faculty. Slowly, also the gender difference within the research communities has slowly faded. Yet, in 2016, in the board meeting of the Lakimies-journal we noticed that corporate law was a discipline that was still mainly in the hands of male doctoral researchers, whereas law and gender research was female dominated. A female researcher commented during the faculty days at the beginning of the last decade that women were well suited for lecturer positions; therefore, the amount of lecturer positions should be increased at the expense of professorial positions. I disagree with this statement. Women are equally well-suited for all of the teaching positions in the Faculty.
Lastly, I’d like to ask, who were the most influential law teachers and role models during your studies?
The Faculty has always had excellent teaching staff – though not necessarily known for their pedagogical abilities. The educational technology has of course developed significantly, however, the most influential factor is what a researcher can pass on to her students and post-grads from their personal experiences particular in seminars.
From the beginning of my studies, I can still remember Paavo Kastari’s compelling constitutional law lectures, where he always told many stories about things that you could not learn from a book, such as his interactions with (former Finnish president) Urho Kekkonen. For me, an important figure was Matti Ylöstalo, whose bright personality, knowledgeability, and depth of mind made a long-lasting impression. He supervised my theses from the master’s level on. If I have to mention a role model, he certainly was one (for a more detailed analysis of Ylöstalo see DL 2017, pp.152-163). I completed a minor with Simo Zittling, whom I knew since my childhood as a good friend of my father’s. As an adult, it was interesting to familiarise myself with his writings, teaching and get to know him as a well-informed person. There were of course many impressive professors around. Professor of jurisprudence Kaarle Makkonen nurtured our minds. His PhD thesis was a must-read for post-graduate students and he guided us with a socratic method whenever engaging with us in the corridors of Porthania.
Interview conducted by Immi Tallgren