It is going to be a suspenseful summer for the RUG. In July, the faculty councils of Spatial Sciences (FSS) and Science and Engineering (FSE) will decide whether or not they approve of the plans for a campus in China. A month later, it is the University Council’s turn. If they give the go-ahead, the university will send in the official application for the campus to the Ministry of Education.
The concept of this application has been written and contains one particular passage that has tongues wagging. In it, the Board of Directors tells the minister that the representatives of the students and staff are ‘regularly involved’ in decision making. That all ‘available information has been shared’, and that ‘the plan has been discussed extensively’. The University Council is also said to ‘have agreed to a branch campus in Yantai’ in 2015.
The UK’s archives paint a different picture, one where students and staff had mainly questions, and complained often of the lack of information and consultation. In 2015, RUG president Sibrand Poppema admitted that he had created ‘an artificial hurry’ to put pressure on the issue.
In that same year, the Personnel faction felt ‘screwed over’ by the way the Council had suddenly agreed to ‘Yantai’ after a sudden move by Poppema. In de Volkskrant, the RUG president called the Economy and Business (FEB) advice committee ‘know-it-alls’ for criticising the plans.
‘In the initial phase we, that is, the University Council, but also the faculty councils, had a great need for more information and we were barely given it. Yantai was on the agenda quite often, but there was never much to discuss’, says Casper Albers of the Personnel faction.
‘The past few months the Board of the University has upped the charm offensive by an order of magnitude and now we’re being overwhelmed by information. I get the impression that the same goes for the faculties. One of the main reasons FEB quit is also the lack of information, business cases, etc. But now, FSE and FSS are being overloaded with documents and information sessions’, says Albers.
The Economy and Business faculty council has always been properly informed by their own faculty board, says council chair Kees van Veen. ‘However, our questions about the use, need, and risks were never properly answered by central parties within the RUG which was supposed to provide us with the necessary input. We asked for this extensively and repeatedly, but we never had a substantive answer or a proper dialogue about it.’
According to Van Veen, this became painfully clear during a later meeting where the Board of Directors tried convincing the FEB employees. ‘The last dregs of benevolence that were left at FEB quickly dried up. The Board was unable to come up with satisfactory answers to their main questions. These questions still haven’t been answered, in spite of all the new documents. It’s been particularly pathetic and disappointing.’
Marc van Maarel, chair of the FSE faculty council, is more positive. He feels the image put forward in the concept application is correct. ‘The faculty board has repeatedly spoken to the Board, both during and outside regular consultation meetings with the Council, about the branch campus. The first discussion did not always go smoothly, since at the time the Board was reticent in putting forth information, which was due to the stage the plans were in. Gradually, the consultations became more extensive.’
Pieter Polhuis, who has been on the University Council in his capacity as faction chair of Lijst Sterk for the past year, also says he feels sufficiently informed of the Yantai plans by the RUG. ‘The number of Council meetings has been increased and we discussed Yantai several times a month with the University Council, both during committee and Council meetings. We also went on an informative work visit.’
According to Hilly Mast, former University Council chair, the information was scant in the beginning. She does not agree with the passage that says that the university ‘has shared all available information’. ‘It’s typical of the Board of Directors to try and make things look better than they are.’
Her successor, Tim Huiskes, does not agree. ‘Speaking from my own experience: since the autumn of 2015, the presidium has been informed by the Board about the state of affairs concerning Yantai on a fortnightly basis during the agenda meetings. The Council was informed whenever this was deemed necessary.’
When it comes to the infamous University Council meeting in 2015, when the Council is supposed to have agreed to Yantai which led to the Personnel faction feeling ‘screwed over’, everyone agrees: no one really knows what was decided then. ‘The opinions are divided about what was actually decided there. The way we see it, the University Council agreed to a study into setting up an international branch campus, for example in Yantai. The Board of Directors interpreted it as a green light for Yantai’, says Albers at the Personnel faction.
FEB council chair Kees van Veen confirms this. ‘The way we see that meeting is that there was an ad hoc vote on Yantai which was lacking in normal documentation. Afterwards, no one really knew what had been decided. The consent at the time was given by a coincidental majority of students. The personnel did not vote.’ According to Van Veen, there was no consent with the Yantai project as such, but with ‘research into a possible university at Yantai’.
Ultimately, it does not really matter what exactly was decided in 2015, according to the people involved. When, earlier this year, student party Lijst Calimero and the Personnel faction wanted to make a statement during a University Council meeting about the lack of the support for the Yantai plans, Poppema asked them not to do that, in return for the right to consent to the campus application. Albers: ‘And that means that when all is said and done, this question is much less important. No matter what we consented to in 2015, we’ll have the option to say either yes or no.’