Why you should want to be on the council
‘We’re truly able to raise awareness’
Professor of energy law Lorenzo Squintani was convinced by an article in UKrant. The then board of directors refused to disclose how funds were distributed across the various faculties. ‘They didn’t want to open a can of worms, something like that’, he recalls. ‘But around me, my colleagues were dropping like flies from the stress.’
He wanted to know more and requested information through the Government Information (Public Access) Act. ‘I told them I hoped they could come up with a better excuse than a can of worms, because we were talking about people’s health.’ He felt the incident was proof that the board had no idea what was going on with its staff. He decided he couldn’t just let that happen and signed up for the university council.
For Janet Fuller, professor of linguistics, it was the realisation that ‘full professors have too much power’. She felt the hierarchical structure needed changing.
Jessica de Bloom, associate professor at the Faculty of Economics and Business, noticed ‘a lack of social safety and things that weren’t well-regulated’, such as ius promovendi or the right to wear a gown, all around her.
Mathieu Paapst, associate professor of law – ‘I’m always upset about something’ – feels the university council serves as a monitoring system.
It’s important work, they feel. Kind of exciting, too, says De Bloom. ‘If the council doesn’t approve of the budget, the university is in trouble. We have veto power on certain issues and topics, which means we can block things. We can ask questions on absolutely anything, that’s an important right as well. We’re truly able to raise awareness of certain things with the board and bring things up for discussion.’
We can ask questions on absolutely anything, that’s important
Things like the PhD scholarship experiment, strategic plans, budgets, or topics like diversity and inclusivity, Squintani says. ‘The big issues that staff often talk about, that UKrant writes articles about.’
And yet, very few people are keen to join the council. The lists of candidates up for election are woefully short. That’s a problem, because only people who were on the list can join the council at a later date. If too many people leave because of illness or a new job, this will lead to empty seats.
The student section, remarkably, doesn’t have this problem; during the last elections, there were ninety-nine candidates on the list. The staff section only had nineteen.
But you can’t really compare the two, says Fuller. Students are compensated for an entire academic year, and the position looks good on their CV. If staff got the same benefits, more people would sign up, Fuller thinks. ‘Because not everyone has the time to do that, right?’
‘I don’t think very many people know that you’re compensated for 0.2 FTE’, says De Bloom/ That’s one day in a forty-hour work week. ‘They think it’s extra work on top of it.’ People often don’t know what the work entails, says Fuller. She often finds herself explaining that the council makes decisions on a university level, not a faculty level.
De Bloom says the time compensation is fine. ‘You don’t have to do council work in summer and in the school holidays, so it evens out a little bit. If I compare it to the teaching calculations, this is a good estimate’, she says.
Not enough time
But it does depend, says Squintani. ‘There are dossiers that require much more time. And that depends on how the workload is divided within the faction and how big the faction is.’ Being faction chair takes more time, anyway.
Joining the library committee would be a better career boost
It’s not enough for Paapst. ‘Because I’m the chair, I have a meeting every week. One day of compensation isn’t enough for me.’ And, he says: ‘You have to argue with your supervisor to make sure the compensation is applied where you want it to be. I’d prefer doing less teaching, but it’s been deducted from my research time, as well.’
‘No way!’ exclaims Squintani in disbelief. Yep, Paapst confirms. Things are going pretty well now, though, he says. ‘I have a new supervisor.’
Then again, you don’t join the council for the compensation, says Squintani. His motivation is intrinsic.
It would be nice if people appreciated what they did more, says Paapst. ‘It’s not like it does anything for our academic careers. In fact, joining the library committee would be a better career boost. The job profile for associate professors states that they have to participate in fundamental issues, but that doesn’t include co-determination positions.’ That should be changed, he says, so they can be acknowledged and appreciated more.
Look at Yantai: it stopped. And look at the PhD scholarship experiment
The university council impacts everyone at the UG, they emphasise, and it should be a reflection of the university itself. The foursome, all scientists, feel more temporary lecturers should be on the council. Paapst understands why: he didn’t feel secure enough to run for council until he got a permanent contract himself. ‘They are a very vulnerable group’, Fuller says. That’s why it’s so important for them to make their voices heard, she feels.
What do they think this particular group of people should know about the work the council does? De Bloom: ‘We’re further removed from the faculty on the university council.’ Squintani says it depends on the issue. ‘I’ve had files that were like -’ ‘You can leave those alone’, De Bloom interrupts. ‘That’s a choice.’ Some issues, she means, should be better handled by other council members.
You can’t expect everything to be solved all at once, says Fuller, who champions social safety at the university, a project that requires stamina. ‘Many of the things that I would like to see happen are not going to happen in my term on the council. They won’t even happen if I’m elected again, and probably not before I retire. But we can make a start.’ It’s slow going, but they’ll get there, they say. Eventually.
And besides, some things do go quickly. ‘Look at Yantai: it stopped. And look at the PhD scholarship experiment.’ ‘Menstrual products’, De Bloom adds.
There’s an upcoming issue in which the university council will be playing an important role, together with the faculty councils: the distribution of ‘incredible amounts of money the universities will be getting’. She is referring to the starting grants and stimulation funds. ‘We absolutely must do something about work stress, combat the rise of conflicts and competition at work, and stop the strongest and most powerful people from getting all the money.’
The university council consists of twelve staff members and twelve students. The staff section has elections every two years, while the student section has them every year. The staff section consists of two parties: the Personnel faction and the Science faction. You can sign up for candidacy by joining one of the factions or by starting your own list at the Central Electoral Committee (firstname.lastname@example.org). You have until March 15.