It’s a useless relic of times gone by, so let’s get rid of it

Columnist Dirk-Jan Scheffers wonders what happened to the infamous Rompslomp committee. Work stress at the uni could be combated by making people do fewer administrative trifles.

I recently received an email that was intended for someone who shares my first name and who’s also a director at our research institute. This person, whose last name starts with the same letter as mine, is the scientific director, while I’m education director.

This is a mistake easily made; it wasn’t the first time that one of us received a message intended for the other. And in this case, I was even able to do what the message asked, saving my colleague time. We’re all very busy, so it all worked out.

We all know that academics work a lot. Last June, ScienceGuide concluded on the basis of a survey it held that the average academic works 48 hours a week. I’m not trying to trivialise the amount of ‘real’ work we do, but there is an abundance of administrative trifles that take up a lot of time, ruining academic personnel’s love of their work.

The abundance of academic trifles ruins academic personnel’s love of their work

Years ago, the university acknowledged this phenomenon by creating the Rompslomp committee, a committee that would take care of all the bureaucracy and red tape. They were inspired, among others, by a particularly good report from FSE called ‘Administratitis’.

The Rompslomp committee started making plans, which were a mix of good ideas that were either only partially followed up on or not at all, and wishful thinking. In 2019, for instance, the committee wrote the following: ‘Some of the more annoying administrative processes will likely be simplified by the introduction of AFAS to the BP2020 project.’

Things didn’t quite turn out the way they’d hoped. However, the idea to not do a task unless there were available hours for it or until another task had been scrapped was quite useful, just like the idea to give people who travel for work a daily remuneration instead of making them photograph every single receipt. Unfortunately, it appears that the AFAS troubles followed by the Covid pandemic put this project on the back burner.

We in Groningen shouldn’t concern ourselves with the HR policies in Tilburg, Leiden, or Utrecht

Back to the email. Whenever a Dutch university wants to make someone a professor, they ask fellow faculties across the country for a recommendation on the person they want to promote. This is just a formality; no one is supposed to give a negative recommendation.

I once heard about a case where a person didn’t receive a glowing recommendation, which caused a big upset and did nothing to stop the person from getting promoted. We in Groningen shouldn’t concern ourselves with the HR policies in Tilburg, Leiden, or Utrecht; we wouldn’t like it if they decided to butt into ours.

If someone feels they need to specifically warn us about a person, there are other channels and procedures they can use. In other words, this task is a useless relic of times gone by, so let’s get rid of it. If academics feel they work so much, perhaps we should be more discerning and figure out the jobs we could get rid of to decrease the stress.

Time to reinstate the Rompslomp committee.

DIRK-JAN SCHEFFERS

Dutch

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