Staff members at Harmonie building want a lunch spot again

Staff at the Harmonie complex are fed up; the cafeteria has signs to make sure no one uses their laptop during lunch hours, but students seem to be ignoring them en masse.
By Remco van Veluwen / Photo by Joas de Jong / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

It happens all too often: a RUG employee walks into the Harmonie cafeteria for lunch and a chat with their co-workers, only to find the place overrun by students studying and talking over their laptops. Disappointed, they take their soup back to their office to eat lunch alone.

Usually the tables have signs on them, saying that laptops are not permitted between noon and two o’clock. During that time, the cafeteria should be used for lunch purposes only. ‘But they just shove them aside without reading them; they’re in the way’, says history lecturer Richard.

He thinks the signs help a little, and so does talking to the students and asking them to go study elsewhere. ‘They might protest a little, but usually they understand. This happens five times a year at most, so usually we manage to solve it ourselves.’

‘Students use the place not to have lunch, but to study’, says Birgit, who works at the Language Centre. Even if there are only two laptops on a table, it’ll be occupied by six students in an elaborate discussion. ‘We want to have lunch together, but we often can’t even sit together.’

Richard doesn’t like that, either. ‘We just want to sit together, but we can’t because the tables are occupied by one or two students.’


Before the renovation of the cafeteria, years ago, there was a clearly marked staff only area. But the C-bar put an end to that. ‘What’s also annoying is that you can’t discuss private business with a colleague without a student being right next to you. I don’t want them overhearing everything we say’, says Birgit. ‘Sometimes we talk about things that aren’t meant for students’ ears’, adds her co-worker Ronald. ‘We always have to look around before discussing things.’

The reverse is also true of course: ‘I overheard students talking about my class once or twice.’ Back when they still had a private staff area, Richard says, people would join each other for lunch more often. ‘That is also partly due to students sitting nearby. Discussing a thesis is no longer an option.’

It’s important for us to take a break from work. But where are we supposed to go?

RUG colleague Gerda feels the situation contradicts the university’s public policies. ‘The RUG published a health policy, saying how important it is their staff is “healthy”, but they don’t take good care of us. We should be able to take our breaks properly.’ Birgit agrees. ‘It’s important for us to take a break from work. But where are we supposed to go?’


The staff members agree on a solution for the problem: the RUG should enforce the rules. Students react the same to the cafeteria lunch hour signs as they do to the smoking ban. ‘They just light up a couple of metres away’, says Ronald. ‘It’s like the silent carts on trains. Trying to get people to be quiet yourself doesn’t work’, says Birgit. ‘Let an authority take care of it.’

Richard would love it if at least part of the room was designated staff only again. ‘We as history department have the habit of eating lunch together. Now the cafeteria is filled with both studying and lunching students.’ It can therefore be hard to find a little spot. ‘But luckily it hardly ever happens to be totally full.’

Ronald understands that students can’t be expected to evacuate the cafeteria at the stroke of noon when they’re studying. ‘I wouldn’t do it if I was in the middle of reading an article, either. I’ve never asked anyone to stop studying, that would somewhat go against my principles.’

But that’s exactly why the three Language Centre colleagues would love to see the return of a separate staff section at the cafeteria. So what’s the hold-up? Birgit: ‘The RUG won’t create one for us, their reasoning being that the Zernike complex doesn’t have a separate staff section either. It’s a nonsense argument. They’re not going to get rid of their particle accelerator just because we don’t have one at the Harmonie building. Big Brother says we need to take healthy breaks, but they won’t do anything to facilitate that.’


How do students feel about the situation? Gabriella Gawęda (22), a student of arts, culture and media, says she didn’t know about the rule. ‘The cafeteria is just always full of people, so I figured it was fine. I did notice a reserved sign once, but I thought that applied to the table, not to everyone in the room’, she says, laughing.

The cafeteria is just always full of people, so I figured it was fine.


Fellow student Dodie Carter (21) didn’t know about the rule, either. ‘Does it apply to the whole building?’ Ivan Penchev (21) never noticed the signs before. He says he rarely visits the cafeteria, but when he does, it’s after two p.m. ‘But I’ve never seen the signs.’ ‘They’re pretty hidden, I don’t think I ever passed them’, Dodie explains.

There’s good reason students work in the cafeteria, she says. They have no other choice. ‘If you need to discuss something with your study group, you can’t go to the library, because you’re not allowed to talk in there.’

So what is the solution? ‘We need more places where people can study and are allowed to talk. Or make the signs larger’, says Dodie jokingly. She’s sad to hear that some lecturers are forced to eat lunch alone in their room. Gabriella also says that was never her intention. ‘But we’ll always need a space where we can study together. Maybe they should create study/lunchrooms.’

Enforcing the no-laptop rules to allow staff to have a quiet lunch is currently on the faculty council’s agenda.



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