All about the university elections
They’re competing for your vote
Between 14 and 18 May – that’s from next Monday until next Friday – all RUG students can vote in the university elections on ProgRESS. You can vote twice: once for the faculty council of your faculty, and once for the university council. Only students get to choose their representatives this year; staff representatives in the councils are up for election once every two years.
The exact workings of the university council are explained in the following video:
Students have an important decision to make next week. This year, you’ll have more choice than ever: for many years, there were no more than three student parties up for the council elections, but this year, there are five.
So what are your choices? And what are the exact differences between, say, DAG and SOG? If you’ve never heard of these political parties before, which is entirely possible, that’s a difficult question to answer. The UK made a list of all the student parties in the election.
Gijs Verhoeff – SOG party leader
Studentenorganisatie Groningen (SOG)
SOG is the oldest of the five student parties. They have a reputation for being particularly pro-student association. Each year, the SOG candidate list contains names from Vindicat, Albertus, and other big student associations. The themes of SOG’s election programme mainly concern student and study associations.
This year’s faction, for example, has taken a stance against paying committee grants after the fact. As we speak, SOG and their ‘colleagues’ from Calimero are negotiating with the university board about the graduation fund.
A proposal for a special subsidy for associations undertaking action to be more sustainable is an example of another one of SOG’s priorities: sustainability. And over the past year, the party has also been involved in the issues around international housing. They’ve provided information, questions, and the idea for a special platform where students can easily sublet their rooms to internationals.
SOG focuses on being constructive, on contributing ideas. Whenever a plan needs rewriting, a proposal needs adjusting, or a policy needs refining, the SOG members are involved. They would rather help shape the RUG board’s policy than reject it. Take for instance the proposed branch campus in Yantai: only one of the parties in the council was strongly in favour, and that party was SOG.
The downside of being constructive is that you risk fading into the background. After all, parties that support the board don’t draw as much attention as those that challenge the establishment.
Perhaps this, as well as the hangover from the failed Yantai project, is why this year, the SOG faction’s profile isn’t quite as pronounced, while the other two factions’ are. It remains to be seen whether SOG will be able to hold on to the five council seats they currently have, especially with the extra competitors this year.
Younes Moustaghfir – Calimero party leader
Calimero was founded to serve ‘ordinary students’. ‘Students who just want a good education’, faction chair Henk Jan Wondergem summarises. Basically, a good education has always been Calimero’s priority.
This year’s faction, along with the other council factions, has managed to procure extra funds for lecturers. Calimero also proposed a plan to change how course evaluations were being done, came up with an idea to offer a minor in rhetoric, and spoke out against exams outside of normal working hours.
Calimero also collaborated with the Groninger Studentenbond and the Erasmus Student Network to send an urgent letter to the RUG and the municipality concerning the room shortage that international students face.
These are great achievements, to be sure, but they are likely to be overshadowed by this academic year’s hot topic and pain in the neck: the branch campus in Yantai. The plan that failed. Of course, this isn’t entirely Calimero’s doing, but the party did play a large role in the scrapping of the plan.
The faction looked at the proposal with an open mind: We’re not necessarily excited to go to Yantai, but we’ll gladly have someone convince us. But after months of deliberation and meetings, they were not convinced, and the five council members decided not to agree to the plan. They knew how much was at stake, and that a large part of the university community would be furious with them, but they stuck to their guns.
That takes courage, and commands a certain respect, regardless of how you might feel about a campus in China. The way Calimero acted in the Yantai case, as well as during the year, might just pay off for them.
DAG is not pictured in the photos that accompany this article. This is a deliberate choice made by the candidates for the faction. ‘We feel the elections have focused too much on generating attention, rather than what actually matters’, says Bram Omvlee, number one on the DAG list.
Democratische Academie Groningen (DAG)
DAG entered the university council elections as enfant terrible. The university has become a business, their election platform proclaimed, and party leader Jasper Been called the other student parties ‘consumers’ unions’. DAG prefers to call itself a movement rather than a party.
To absolutely everyone’s surprise, DAG managed to get two seats in the university council last year. If you compare the party with SOG and Calimero, the first thing you notice is a difference in focus. DAG wants to address big, fundamental issues. A small selection of last year’s election platform:
‘Why is the RUG working on a project as megalomaniacal and absurd as the branch campus in China? Since when are the rankings so important? Why are researchers judged by how much money they manage to rake in? Why doesn’t the university feel responsible for housing international students? Don’t we have too many students already?’ DAG doesn’t seem to mind that the council can’t always answer these questions; they just want to ask these questions and for people to consider them. They want a different opinion to be heard.
DAG can be rigid, a quality for which they are both denounced and admired. They’re denounced because the university’s process of participation is built on collaboration rather than oppositional parties digging their heels in. And they are admired because they have actually achieved some things: the Yantai campus plans have been scrapped for now, and the university will be making extra funds available for more educational staff. And, as the aftermath of historian Eelco Runia’s departure showed, DAG has struck a cord with students.
Their current project: an elected rector magnificus. Right now, university managers are appointed. DAG feels it’s more democratic to allow the academic community to elect their rector. It just so happens that current rector Elmer Sterken’s term is almost up, so there’s an opportunity there.
Nard Willemse – DVS party leader
De Vrije Student (DVS)
This is the first newcomer this election term. This party could almost be called a franchise: they’ve sprung from the youth movement of the Dutch liberal party VVD. There are also divisions at the Universities of Amsterdam and Utrecht.
Flexible studying is DVS’ main platform: they want students to pay tuition per course they take, rather than the whole sum for a single year. This would be helpful towards students who would like to engage in extracurricular activities such as a job, internship, or association work.
A further look through their programme shows that DVS is a proponent of sustainability, careful internationalisation, and investing in educational quality, and that the party opposes weekend exams and room shortage. Not unlike SOG and Calimero, which raises the question of whether De Vrije Student has anything new to offer.
Perhaps the party’s added value lies simply in being new; they have no expectations to meet yet, no established traditions or years of behind-the-scenes support alliances. This could be attractive to students who are looking for a new and fresh voice in the council. It’s hard to predict which parties would lose support to DVS, but DAG will probably not suffer; DVS is against elected university managers, calling the idea a ‘sham democracy’.
Ruben Tan – One Man Gang party leader
One Man Gang
The One Man Gang consists of Dutch-Malaysian student Ruben Tan. Just him. He has an Instagram page with 101 followers and a bright pink logo on stickers that he puts up all over the university.
He also has an election programme. He wants the hot water in the University Library (UB), which currently costs fifty cents, to be free again. The UB’s balcony should become a smoking zone; since smoking has been banned there, the library’s entrance has been a mess of cigarette butts. He also feels that students aren’t heard properly, which is why anyone who needs something from him is allowed to send him a direct message through his Instagram page.
The One Man Gang is different from any other party in this election, and perhaps even from any party ever. This is on purpose. According to Tan, the current parties are too far removed from students. They’re only visible when they’re campaigning, and they’re not properly concerned with what truly matters to students. He denounces that attitude, and therefore tries to be as different from the others as possible.
Whether these accusations levelled at SOG, DAG, and Calimero are justified remains to be seen. But anyone who deliberately dissents from the others gets noticed. It’s entirely possible that this will get Tan some support, perhaps even from those students that usually don’t care about the elections. And their numbers are large: on the whole, no more than 30 percent of students show up to vote in the elections.
Should the One Man Gang win more than one seat, it would make things awkward in the university council. That’s because redundant seats aren’t given to a different party. Rather, they cease to exist. So if Tan wins enough votes for two seats, next year’s council’s student component would consist of eleven rather than twelve members.
Do you want to know more?
Keep an eye on the parties’ websites. Over the next few days, they should be publishing their election platforms. On Monday, 14 May at 7 p.m., the five parties’ leaders will engage each other in a debate. The debate is open to all students. Its location will be announced.