Curt Rice, 1980 Mayo Grad and President/Rector of Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences in Norway
Rochester Magazine: Tell me about the first time you visited Norway in 1991. Was it love at first sight? Curt Rice: I actually visited Norway for the first time in December of 1984. I was spending a year as a Fulbright student in Leuven, Belgium. I was going to visit my now wife, Tove Dahl, who was spending the year in Oslo. We traveled together to the north of Norway to visit her extended family, to a town north of the Arctic Circle, where the sun did not rise at all at that time of the year. I remember that I found the lack of sunlight confusing and because I had just finished a demanding semester of academic work, I think I slept much of the time I was there. But I did find it exotic and different and very far away.
RM: Give me one very specific thing that Rochesterites would find strange about life in Norway. CR: I’ve been in Norway so long now that it can be difficult to answer questions like this. Since Rochester is such a center for health care delivery, the locals might be interested to know that there is universal access to health care in Norway, which means that if you are legally in Norway, you have essentially free access to the system. On the lighter side, I can confirm that there really are Norwegians who like lutefisk, although that remains a mystery to me.
RM: True or false: If you are telling a great story to a Norwegian, he or she will start making strange sounds—”aspirations with the mouth”—to illustrate how interested they are in your story.
CR: Linguists call those sounds “ingressives.” That is, you make a sound by drawing air into your lungs rather than with the usual egressive airflow. And, yes, it is true that Norwegians will say the word for ‘yes’ — ‘ja’ — with an ingressive airflow as a way of indicating that they are listening and following along.
RM: What kind of student were you at Mayo?
CR: I was a confused student at Mayo. I found the looming prospect of college to be unclear and I had a hard time figuring out how to take a constructive approach to high school. I did study and I guess I did all right in most of my classes, but I struggled to see the big picture including both the promise and the potential of education. A lot of friends were not surprisingly under explicit or implicit pressure to study medicine and that was not my situation, so while they were being driven by the goal — perhaps not their own, of course — I felt somewhat more afloat.
RM: You will be one of the first non-Norwegians to lead one of the country’s institutions. Tell me about that.
CR: It’s true that no non-Norwegian has led a Norwegian institution of higher education before. The fact that I could get hired into this job indicates a growing international perspective in Norway, a growing acceptance that foreigners can become sufficiently well integrated to play such a role, and perhaps it also reflects to a certain extent the still close ties that Norwegians feel with the U.S. I do find this to be a significant responsibility and I hope that I can do this job in a way that will contribute to creating more opportunities for foreigners who have adopted Norway as their home.
RM: How did you and Tove meet?
CR: Tove and I were undergraduates together at Augsburg College and became good friends towards the end of our studies there. We were each going off to Europe for a year after college, so we kept in touch over there, and then we both started PhD programs at the University of Texas at Austin in 1985.
RM: Do you two ever wear matching Scandinavian sweaters?
CR: We both have good collections of Scandinavian sweaters, but I don’t think any of them actually match.
RM: Favorite Norwegian Edvard: Munch, Grieg, or Moser?
CR: All of us who work in higher education and research were thrilled last year when May-Britt and Edvard Moser won the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology. Edvard and I both received grants to start so-called Centers of Excellence at the same time, back in 2002. And May-Britt is of course one of few women to ever win a Nobel Prize. As I have said many times in many public settings, the Nobel committees are notoriously incapable of seeing the work of women, so she is a welcome exception. The work of women, as is easy to see, is devalued everywhere and the Nobel committees could play a major role in changing that. It’s shocking that they choose not to.
RM: Favorite memories of Rochester?
CR: In elementary school, I lived in a neighborhood with lots of kids my age and lots of life. It was easy during those years to find friends and to enjoy the kinds of things that one should enjoy as a child. Perhaps most childhood memories are about people rather than about places. I’ve hardly been to Rochester since graduating from high school, so it is admittedly a bit distant in my mind.
RM: Is a-ha playing on the radio constantly? How many times a day do you hear “Take On Me?”
CR: A-ha is indeed part of the cultural life of Norway, it’s true. In fact, I think I recently saw that they were getting back together to play some more.
RM: What famous movie scene was filmed in Finse, near the Oslo-Bergen railway?
CR: Finse is of course the home of the ice planet Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back.
RM: Tove was recently named Knight of the First Class of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit. Does she now make you call her dame or knightress or knight or something similar?
CR: Tove was indeed recognized with a knighthood by King Harald for her work on behalf of Norway in the United States. Among other things, she has been the dean of Skogfjorden, the Norwegian Language Village, in Bemidji, every summer since 1984. Our son, Espen Sindre, has practically grown up there. The knighthood is a major acknowledgement of her role in Norwegian America and with it comes the title of “Dame.” We tend to take things a little less formally at home.
RM: Luftputebåten min er full av ål.
CR: You must be on the river. And I bet you’re thinking of øl.
RM: I don’t know. I was trying to say “My hovercraft is full of eels.” My Google translator must have failed me.