Animation by René Lapoutre

Meetings in your free time

No one wants to join the faculty council

Animation by René Lapoutre
Faculty and employee councils are having a particularly hard time finding people to join their personnel factions. That’s because council members aren’t always absolved of other work. ‘Verbal recognition is great, but actual compensation would be better.’
29 November om 11:01 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 29 November 2022
om 15:43 uur.
November 29 at 11:01 AM.
Last modified on November 29, 2022
at 15:43 PM.
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Door René Hoogschagen

29 November om 11:01 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 29 November 2022
om 15:43 uur.
Avatar photo

By René Hoogschagen

November 29 at 11:01 AM.
Last modified on November 29, 2022
at 15:43 PM.
Avatar photo

René Hoogschagen

Freelance journalist Volledig bio / Full bio.

He really just wanted to quit. Michael Wilkinson, associate professor of computer science, had already spent six years on the faculty council at the Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE) and he thought that was enough. But who was supposed to take his place? There weren’t even enough candidates to organise elections.

Many faculty and employee councils are suffering from the same problem. Arts didn’t have enough people to make up the empty seats, and neither did the religious faculty, the law faculty, or the university library. The latter two even have empty council seats.

Obligated to continue

‘The religious faculty got the worst of it’, says Kaj Reker, co-determination expert and official secretary of the central employee council. ‘Everyone wanted out, but they didn’t have any new candidates. So per the rules, people had to stay. You can’t just quit.’

His own employee council, the Office of the University, which recently merged with the Services Department to form University Services, was facing the same problem. ‘One member had just become a father, so he wanted to leave, but we needed him just to have enough people.’

Without elections, you lose a bit of support

But they had twelve candidates on the list, which meant they had enough people to fill their nine council seats ‘But when push came to shove, three people withdrew. One because they were taking a seat on the university council, one because they were switching jobs, and the last one because they couldn’t combine it with their duties at home.’

That meant there were no elections. ‘That’s a shame, because without elections, you lose a bit of support’, says Reker. ‘If people don’t know that they voted for someone, they feel less of a connection. It just feels like it’s all for show.’

Empty seats

At the Faculty of Arts, two members wanted to leave. This initially didn’t seem like a problem since there were plenty of candidates for the council. But just to make sure, they put themselves on the candidate list anyway. It was a good thing, too, because illness and other work meant two candidates dropped out. ‘One of the people who wanted to quit came back after all’, says faculty council member Bob van der Borg. If they hadn’t, there would have been an empty seat on the council.

The law faculty did in fact have empty seats. The personnel faction only had nine candidates on the list for the elections. Chair Michiel Duchateau was happy to even have that many, he says. ‘I could have done more to ask people to be on the list, but we were in the middle of the pandemic and to be honest, I was kind of overworked.’ He knew the risk of people dropping out because it had happened before. 

But he never expected three lecturers to quit, all for different reasons. Suddenly, he had three empty seats in the personnel faction. He’s found a few people who are interested in doing council work in the meantime, but they’re not allowed on the council. At least, not yet. They have to be officially elected, and a by-election isn’t an option in this case, according to Duchatau.

Council work isn’t something you can just do on the side

But the voting ratio on the council is of particular importance right now: lecturers and students are diametrically opposed on the issue of online classes. Student party Ten Behoeve van Rechtenstudenten (TBR) wants students with ADHD or those who do board work to be able to watch recorded classes immediately. The faculty board is worried they’ll miss out on too many classes and demands that students prove that they have no other way of coming to class. Lecturers agree with the latter point.

Whether the council has anything to say about it remains to be seen, since it agreed with vague rules last year. Besides that, TBR doesn’t want to belabour the issue. But the fact remains, as Duchateau is all too aware of, that they have six votes, just as many as the lecturers on the council now that the latter are missing three people. That means the three students with Progressief Rechten can determine the outcome of every vote.

Working hard

‘Council work isn’t just busywork’, says Reker. It has real substance. ‘There is a lot of work to do, the university is in turmoil. Council members across the UG are working very hard at the moment. It isn’t something you can just do on the side. It’s not the participation council at your kids’ elementary school.’

Managers at the university genuinely need the councils, says Mariano Mendez, who chairs the FSE faculty council. ‘There are certain things they can’t do without our agreement or positive recommendation.’ For instance, every iteration of the testing and exam regulations need approval. But policy changes concerning education and research also need to be seen by the council so they can form an opinion. The council can also raise its own issues.

In short: faculty councils take up time. People spend approximately 5 to 10 percent of their working hours on council work, Wilkinson once told his supervisor, and that’s on meetings alone. ‘That’s before you’ve read anything, put out feelers on what’s happening, or written anything.’

‘We have a meeting nearly every month, and they take half a day’, Duchateau says. ‘Reading all the documents takes up half a day as well.’ All in all, the council meeting alone takes up nearly eight hours a month.

How much more time he spends on his council work varies, he says. ‘Sometimes it’s quiet, sometimes there’s a lot to do.’ Like now: there’s a change coming to the way theses are evaluated. ‘So I’ve been talking to a lot of people to ask how they feel so I can form an opinion.’

Free up time

Freeing up time for council work is ‘arranged differently’ across faculties, says Reker. If there are any arrangements in place at all, that is. ‘It’s a lot more difficult in reality.’ Arjen Bakker, who sits on the religious faculty council, doesn’t know anything about any time arrangements, just that he gets 140 euros in meeting allowance, something everyone at the UG gets.

The arrangements also vary per department: department heads decide which activities council members can forego to free up time. 

You either sacrifice research time or your own time

Wilkinson had to go to the Bernoulli Institute to arrange time off. ‘But if the institute is understaffed, like the computer science department was for a long time, it’s difficult to just fob teaching tasks off to other people who are also overworked’, he says. ‘So in reality, you sacrifice research time or do council work on your own time.’

There is a standard arrangement for students, however. They’re compensated for their work and have more time to finish their studies, depending on how hard their council tasks are. The work also looks great on their CV. There are usually many more candidates for student positions, although some faculties still struggle to find them.


The arts faculty estimates people spend approximately seventy hours a year on council work. In Van der Borg’s case, a student assistant helps him with this. Since supervising the assistant takes time, their position is for more than seventy hours. ‘I thought that was very nice of them’, says Van der Borg.

However, recognising council work isn’t just a matter of compensating for hours, but also a matter of support, says Reker. Most faculties have board secretaries do perform these legally required supporting tasks. ‘But official secretaries would be a much better choice to support council members’, says Rekers, allowing the latter to focus on what matters.

The arts council wants to change this, he knows. ‘But the dean says that we can’t do that, because other faculties don’t do that, either. So we’re all just stuck in these outdated arrangements.’ 


‘It kind of feels like a conflict of interest’, he says. He’d prefer if support was regulated through a central service, just like the confidential adviser and ombudsperson. He is currently making an inventory of all the ways support for council work is arranged at the various departments and faculties, so they can learn from the best practices.

People are slowly starting to feel the same way

Because verbal recognition is nice, says faculty council chair Mariano Mendez. ‘At New Year’s receptions, for example. But actual compensation would be better.’ He’s been lobbying the board for years in an effort to get the faculty to arrange the distribution of hours. But the previous board wouldn’t acknowledge his efforts. ‘It was frustrating’, he says.

The new faculty board is more open-minded, says Mendez. He’s looking forward to the December meeting, when the board will present a proposal. It will probably lead to discussions, but at least council work would finally be recognised as an administrative task, just like committee work is now. It would also give employee PhDs who do council work an extension.

Right direction

There’s no reason other faculties couldn’t follow in these footsteps, Reker says. ‘That would be great. They’re all steps in the right direction. He can also see that things are slowly changing for the better. ‘People are slowly starting to feel the same way.’ 

Mendez hopes the new rules at FSE will make doing council work more attractive. Not just for employed PhDs, who he’s hardly seen in the council the past eight years, but also for others. ‘Hopefully, some of the people who used to say that they were too busy and didn’t want any extra stress will now change their minds.’

And who knows, maybe Wilkinson will be able to find a successor at the next election after all.