From Monday May 13 to Friday May 17, you can vote not only for the university council, but for the various faculty councils as well. How do these councils work?
By Jelmer Buit and Michelle Gerssen / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen
Put briefly, the faculty councils serve as the faculty’s ears and eyes. Each council consists of students and staff at the faculty concerned. Next week you’ll be able to vote for who represents you on that council.
Faculty council members meet several times a year. The frequency varies per faculty. Members from the faculty board often join these meetings. The council issues advice on plans of the board and informs the board of anything that’s going on at the faculty.
But what does your faculty’s council actually talk about? Well, the UKrant has catalogued all the hot-button issues from the past year. Over the next few days we’ll add two faculties to the map every day, starting with the arts and religious faculties.
And what about the university council? Don’t worry, we also made a video about that.
Sipco Vellenga is the vice dean for the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies (TRS), so he also has a seat on the faculty council. He says that over the past year, the council mainly talked about the budget and the testing and exam regulations (TER). ‘They are the topics we always return to’, says Vellenga. This year, there was extra money in the budget. ‘We had a lot of meetings about how to divide the funds.’
Marieke Landman, a student member on the faculty council, confirms this. ‘Because the basic student grant was cancelled, extra money became available that we now have to divide among the RUG faculties. We needed to decide who would get what.’
Over the course of these discussions, it became clear how important the student members of council really are to gauging what actions are actually helpful for students. Inquiries had shown that many students were struggling with mental health issues. The topic was also brought up during the SAM, the meeting of representative bodies that takes place four times a year.
‘During the SAM, we talk about subjects we introduce’, says Landman. ‘This year, the topic was mental health.’ Her contribution made the faculty board realise that the proposal they had come up with didn’t meet the students’ needs.
‘During a council meeting, we felt that there was a better way to spend the money on mental health’, says Vellenga. ‘In the end, we spent the money by expanding the student adviser offices. Normally, only first-year students had access to student advisers, but now second- and third-years do as well.’
Did this solve the issue? Landman says it didn’t. ‘It’s a start. We’ve tried to tell people about the problems that students face. This resulted in us getting a lot of input and funds. But it’s a multi-year project. Next year, we’re looking to do an official investigation. We can do that with the money we got.’
While the problem hasn’t been solved yet, Meijer noticed her input as first-year member of the faculty council really mattered. ‘We’re a small faculty’, she says. ‘That means you quickly become involved in what’s going on. The lines of communication are swift, which means we feel like we’re making an impact.’
The Faculty of Arts dealt with a lot of controversial questions this year, says Maarten Schunselaar, who serves as secretary for the faculty and therefore has a seat on the faculty council. The discussions about the task-allocation model and whether students should get to resit exams they passed were the most heated.
Hidde Luchtenbeld, a student member on the faculty council, says that there were also discussions about the council itself. ‘We talked a lot about how to transform the council. We get documents before each meeting, and were not not allowed to show these to anyone who’s not on the council. Both student factions argued that this policy should be more relaxed.’
A new protocol was drawn up in which is defined what kind of documents can or can’t be published. ‘The faculty board was positive about this’, says Schunselaar.
The arts faculty meets five or six times a year. ‘We often also have a committee meeting approximately a week before each consultation meeting’, Luchtenbeld explains. ‘The council meets to ask informal questions. But we often end up asking political questions as well.’
Even with all the meetings, the council doesn’t always find solutions for the hot-button issues. Like their plea for increased transparency, says Luchtenbeld. ‘The board felt that publishing the documents beforehand would lead to agitation and confusion. They were worried that the faculty community would read the documents and assume that the policies were already set down.’
People were more interested in the new task allocation model and the discussion about resitting passed exams. ‘The new task allocation model is based on input from different people at the faculty’, says Schunselaar. ‘The faculty council is just one of the many voices.’
During the resit discussion, the council made sure that people were keeping all the various elements in mind. ‘The plan was approached from different sides’, Schunselaar explains. ‘The proposal didn’t just affect students, but lecturers and administrative staff as well.’
Student Luchtenbeld joined the faculty council because he wanted to know how democracy at the university worked. ‘There aren’t that many people on the council, and they have very little to do with the everyday students. The rules are very specific and arbitrary. I wanted to take a closer look.’
After a year on the faculty council, he’s not particularly happy. ‘The faculty council needs more authority to be more effective. It would allow us to be more forceful. Now all we have is the right to consent to the faculty regulations and the exam regulations.’
‘We created an organisation that coaches postdocs’
Dick Veldhuis is managing director at the Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE). The faculty council discussed topics such as a follow-up to the employee survey, coaching postdocs, and the lack of room at the faculty. The faculty board introduced all these topics.
Thomas van de Wijdeven, student member on the faculty council, mentions a different issue that came up in the council. ‘The faculty board presented their plans for the study advance. We agreed with their plans except for one point – the board wanted a Student Service Centre at Zernike. We thought the university should take care of that, and not the faculty itself. The board actually listened to us on that.’
In his role as student council member, Thomas felt he did his job representing the students. ‘This year we also focused on stress among students. We did a lot of research, and we managed to hire psychologists. It felt good that we were able to do that’, he says.
The employees are also well-represented on the council. In addition to the employee survey, the faculty board also worked on setting up a community for postdoctoral candidates. ‘Postdocs are work really hard, but they can be at a loss as to how to continue their career’, says Veldhuis.
Postdoctoral candidates continue doing research after getting a PhD. Then they have to decide whether they want to continue their academic career or opt for a corporate one. ‘We created an organisation that coaches and prepares postdocs to take the next step after their time at the faculty. The faculty council was very happy with this.’
At FSE, the advice from the council holds real weight with the board, says Thomas. It’s one of the reasons he decided to join the council. ‘I did board work at my study association, TBV Lugus. I really enjoyed discussing things with the various parties and it felt good to advise on policy plans, so I wanted to more of that.’
In addition to professor of governance and geography, Oscar Couwenberg serves as dean for the Faculty of Spatial Sciences (FSS) and has a seat on the faculty council. ‘This year, we mainly focused on quality agreements and how to spend the study advance’, says Couwenberg.
The study advance are the funds that became available when the study financing system became a loans system. Universities get to decide for themselves how to spend these funds.
‘It’s an investment in education’, says Couwenberg. ‘The minister gave us that money. In return, we have to deliver quality. Our educational quality is already damn high’, he says, laughing, ‘but that doesn’t mean we can’t use the money. It can help ease lecturers’ stress levels, for example. I think we managed that process quite well by talking about it during faculty council meetings.’
Jeppe de Vries, a student member on the faculty council, says the quality agreements were an important agenda point last year. ‘We had three meetings just about the quality agreements. We asked students what they would want to change about the faculty if we gave them a big bag of money.’
They also talked about improved digital and technical education. Training in photoshop, for example, would help students in courses that require design chops.
Pro Geo, the FSS student party, organised workshops last year. This year, the workshops were organised by Career Services. ‘The faculty needs to pay for those workshops. We sent a survey to alumni to figure out what was needed. We asked them which fields they were currently working in and what software they used. The results will definitely help us figure out which digital skills to teach in the future.’
At first, Jeppe was hesitant about joining the faculty council. ‘I kept putting it off to focus on my studies. But I joined up last year after all.’ In the end, Jeppe loved helping out with such big-picture projects like figuring out how to implement the quality agreement.
‘After studying for a while, I started wondering how everything worked behind the scenes. I saw it all during my year on the council. It was really valuable.’
Kees Aarts is the dean of the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences (BSS) and attends the faculty council meetings. He mainly remembers the discussion about staff policy and tenure track. ‘It was a generous system, but the faculty board felt it was problematic.’
Anniek Kievitsbosch is a student member on the council. She, too, remembers the discussion about staff policy. But there’s another topic that stuck in her mind: recording the online classes.
Lecturers and students
Tenure track is a system in which new and existing employees who are particularly good at their jobs have a chance at a fast-tracked promotion. The board felt that not every employee should be allowed this chance. ‘We didn’t want people to think that Groningen was the place where you could easily rise up through the ranks’, says Aarts.
Kievitsbosch remembers the discussion, but says she didn’t get too involved. ‘The council consists of lecturers and students. Some issues involve students, while others involve the lecturers. I wasn’t going to pretend I knew what I was talking about here.’
The faculty board rejected the tenure track idea, and it was shelved. But Aarts remains optimistic. ‘I’m sure we’ll return to it someday. We have a good relationship with the faculty council.’
The discussion about recording lectures, a hot-button issue for Kievitsbosch, was resolved more concretely. ‘How we implement that depends on the quality agreements. Some of the funds that will be made available for the quality agreements will be spent on extra recordings, provided the agreements are approved.’
Kievitsbosch is satisfied with how the discussions about the recordings went. ‘The council handled it with all due deference. We’re still in talks with the faculty board. They started an investigation into which classes are and aren’t being recorded currently, and how we can make sure to make more recordings available.’
This was Kievitsbosch’s first year on the faculty council. Before that, she served as chair of the board for VIP. She wanted to do more with the knowledge she had. ‘I was interested in what was going on at the faculty. The things I say really make an impact here. I’m taken seriously.’
Michael Duchateau is chairman of the Law faculty council. Last year, he says, they spent a lot of time discussing quality agreements and the study advance. ‘I definitely think we’ve done great things with the funds they made available to us.’
Bas Peper is a student member on the council. He, too, remembers the quality agreements, but they’re not all. ‘We would have liked to see more online classes.’
For the quality agreements, the ministry of education makes extra funds available to improve the quality of education. ‘We talked to the board and the students to decide exactly where the money would be going’, says Duchateau. ‘We even had a committee come by to make sure everything was in order.’
For Duchateau, staff policy was the most important point of action. ‘The faculty board would write a memo on it. We’re currently talking about it. We’re headed in the right direction, but it’s been on the agenda for three years.’
Duchateau feels the topic was important for the students on the council because it gave them power over the issue, and Peper confirms this. ‘We played an active role in the discussion. In addition to the faculty councils, we met with several representative bodies.’
That’s not to say that Peper doesn’t have some criticisms. ‘The student to staff ratio is really low at our faculty. We’ve got almost no work groups in the third year of the bachelor. So we’ve been working on getting extra staff. But at the last council meeting we heard that enrolment has gone up so much that the ratio will basically stay the same. All our work has been for nothing.’
Their goal for more online lectures has yet to be reached. ‘They set up a committee that will create policy on online lectures’, says Peper. ‘So that’s something accomplished. But we’re not sure what the outcome will be. We wanted lecturers to be required to put their classes online.’
Peper thinks it’s a shame he only gets to serve on the council for one year. ‘Some people have been on the council for as long as a decade. The issue of online classes has been going on forever; lecturers have been talking about it for a long time. But because I can only serve for one year, the discussion starts over every single year.’
Marit de Jong serves as student member on the philosophy faculty council. For her, the quality agreements and the power the council has were hot-button issues this past year. ‘We were unpleasantly surprised to find out that there are no clear guidelines set down about what we are and aren’t allowed to do.’
Lodi Nauta, faculty dean and member of the council, says there were no hot-button issues this year. ‘We never have any. But the most pressing and important issues were the agreements about the Quality indicators.’
A steering committee determined which issues the faculties could invest in. Philosophy decided to mainly spend the funds on manpower. ‘We dealt with this by extensively using our power of consent’, says Nauta.
De Jong confirms this, but adds that she doesn’t think all the meetings they held were strictly necessary. ‘Everyone agreed that we should spend the money on manpower. The students on the council asked the rest of the students at the faculty how they felt about it, and they agreed as well. They also noticed that exams were almost never graded within two weeks.’
De Jong says the power the faculty council has was an important point to her. ‘It was a giant bureaucratic mess this past year. We asked the board for the document outlining our power, but they didn’t have it. In the end, we had to combine three different documents. Only then could we figure out when we actually had a right to consent to something. We didn’t know before that.’
The board didn’t see the document as an issue. ‘But they were surprised’, says De Jong. ‘Apparently no one had ever brought it up. It was kind of weird for us, too. How did the previous faculty councils know how their consent worked?’
Both Nauta and De Jong think that so few students vote in the elections because they’re not really interested. ‘I don’t think students know what kind of decisions we make and how that affects them. We have to make it clearer to them. They don’t think the faculty council has anything to do with them.’
Nauta thinks students just don’t really care about the stuff the council discusses. ‘Maybe they’d rather join a fun study association committee?’
Robbert Maseland is an associate professor at the Faculty of Economic and Business (FEB). He also chairs the faculty council. He says the discussion concerning work stress was the biggest point on the council’s agenda this past year.
Amber Vos, student member and vice-chair of the council, says the quality agreements were also an important agenda point. Due to the abolishment of the basic grant and the new loans system, universities had quite a bit of extra money to spend. ‘But there are few really large shortages at FEB. We needed some time to figure out what to spend the funds on, because we basically had everything in order.’
In spite of the ‘few large shortages’, there was room for improvement, says Vos. ‘We had quite a few evening classes this year, and exams on a Saturday. We’d like to improve on that.’ He’d also like to see more small-scale education. That means lecturers should get more hours to teach. That also means the faculty needs more small classrooms.
The proposals are a response to the reports Maseland has received about work stress. ‘We’ve had various reports about the severity of work stress, both at the university as a whole and our faculty in particular. We’ve managed to make it clear to the board that it’s an important issue.’
The board set up a work group which wrote a report on the causes of work stress and the possible measures to decrease it. ‘As far as I’m concerned, that’s one of the most important things we did in the faculty council.’
The faculty council also convinced the board that the faculty’s inclusivity and diversity policy needed improving. ‘We mainly differed on how urgent this issue was’, says Maseland. ‘We have an inclusivity policy in place, but we feel it’s not properly developed.’ It was up to the faculty council to make sure the board took the issue seriously.
The faculty council meets with the faculty board once every two months. ‘In reality, that’s only five times a year’, says Vos. ‘And after the exam period, students have to play catch-up.’ The process of change isn’t a fast one, but it’s the little things that count: ‘We asked for more microwaves at the faculty, and we got them. We now have four where we previously had two.’
The Faculty of Medical Sciences isn’t managed like the university’s other faculties, mainly because of the UMCG’s connection to the faculty. This means they don’t have a faculty council, but an education and research council.
All studies, from movement sciences to medicine and dentistry, are represented on the council by students, bringing their number to seven. The faculty doesn’t have a faculty board either, but rather an executive board.
Marian Joëls is professor of neuroscience and the dean of the medical faculty/UMCG, which means she is also a member of the UMCG’s executive board. There is no faculty board. She is the link between the UMCG and the university.
Last year, she proposed the junior lecturer programme to the council, a programme for young employees, either with or without a PhD degree, who are interested in teaching.
‘We want to provide a teacher training programme that combines studying and working. Our employees will be teaching part-time, and they’ll be coached throughout the process of getting their teaching certificate’, Joëls explains. The study advance would partially pay for the new programme.
The executive board was enthusiastic about it, but the council less so. Lennard Pierey, a third-year medical student and council member, explains why: ‘It would be great for movement sciences and dentistry, but medical sciences has approximately eight hundred lecturers already. We simply don’t need those junior lecturers.’ ‘We should have one lecturer for a specific field, and not ten different visiting surgeons.’
Lennard has a seat on the council for the second year in a row. In contrast to the other faculty councils, members are not elected. Instead, they apply for a position. Lennard feels the process works: ‘That’s how the UMCG has always done it. We’ve also always had a great working relationship with the deans and the pro deans.’
In the end, it was decided that the study advance would be spent elsewhere at the medical programme. ‘We’ll still start the junior lecturer programme here, but we’ll pay for it ourselves’, says Joëls.
Another issue discussed last year was recording classes. Lennard: ‘We sent the UMCG executive board a letter. At the UMCG, recording classes isn’t allowed, to protect patients’ privacy. But not all classes actually discuss patient-related information, especially not in movement sciences.’
In other words, those classes should be recorded, says Lennard. But the current rules prohibit it. The council wants to change these rules to allow lecturers to record their classes should they want to.