• RUG board criticised over Yantai

    'We have too little information'

    While RUG president Sibrand Poppema is working in China with the communications department on a promotional film for university employees, those same staffers still have many unanswered questions. ‘The RUG president is in Yantai while the university council commission was hoping to question him about Yantai…’ tweeted university council member Hilly Mast on Wednesday.

    in short

    In a short period of time, the RUG board has been criticised repeatedly for the way they have dealt with students and staff in the Yantai plans.

    Last weekend, university council chairwoman Hilly Mast was interviewed by Dagblad van het Noorden. ‘He doesn’t engage in enough dialogue’, she said, referring to RUG president Sibrand Poppema.

    Simultaneously, former university council members Jan Blaauw and Jan Visser made themselves heard in UK. They said they felt ‘cheated’ by the way the Board had ‘forced’ the council to accept the Yantai plans.

    Casper Albers, a new member of the university council who is also connected to ReThink RUG, thinks the Board offers too little information about ‘Yantai’. Chairman Kees van Vaan of the FEB council agrees: ‘We still haven’t seen a strong, strategic analysis.’

    His faculty will have to decide if they want to offer programmes in Yantai soon, before 19 October. On that date the Board will make their go/no-go decision.

    The advisory committee of the FEB board is expected to release a report with their own findings soon. According to committee member Beppo van Leeuwen, the plans have still not been made perfectly clear and there is ‘dissatisfaction with how quickly everything is going’.

    University council member Rieza Aprianto also thinks much remains unclear. ‘Many details seem to be even made up on the spot.’

    Albers also worries about the academic freedom in Yantai. ‘Guarantees have been given for the Dutch employees in China, but 90 per cent of the students will be Chinese.’

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    Last weekend, a long interview with Mast was published in Dagblad van het Noorden which largely consisted of criticising how the board of directors have dealt with the students and staff in the Yantai plans. ‘He doesn’t engage in enough dialogue. He says: ‘I will explain it once more.’ That is typical of the position of the current board’, she says.

    Simultaneously, two other staff members also made themselves heard. Jan Visser and Jan Blaauw, both former members of the university council, said they felt cheated by the board. ‘The board of the university is angling for the result they want. How they achieve that result is only of secondary importance. I think we can say that much.’

    Not talking about coffee

    It is the first time that such open criticism has been aired about the plans for the new campus in China, or, more specifically, the manner in which the plans are being worked out.

    ‘We have too little information, despite the fact that we have to make an important decision. We aren’t talking about what brand of coffee we want in the coffee machines’, says instructor Casper Albers, a member of ReThink RUG and, as of this month, a member of the university council. ‘On the intranet, there is some general information, but at some point, you have to be given more detailed insight about the financial consequences and the actual time frame. And we don’t have that.’

    ‘We still haven’t seen a strong, strategic analysis for why we should pursue branch campuses’, says Kees van Veen, chairperson of the faculty council for Economics & Business and an instructor of International Business and Management. ‘The business case for Yantai is still missing. What will it actually yield, and is that even realistic? As far as I know, there still isn’t a thoroughly worked out risk analysis. To me, careful decision-making seems crucial with an ambitious project like this.’

    Go/no-go decision

    Van Veen’s faculty will have to make up their minds soon. The RUG wants to provide various programmes from FEB in China. Before the go/no-go decision on 19 October – the moment when the university will decide definitively whether or not to go forward with the Yantai branch – the faculty has to make known if they want to take part. The advisory committee for the FEB board is expected to release a report with their own findings soon.

    ‘The plans have still not been made perfectly clear’, admits Beppo van Leeuwen. He is one of the committee members and coordinator of two of the programmes which have been nominated to be sent to Yantai. Van Leeuwen keeps his remarks brief – ‘I can’t really respond in a couple of sentences’ – but he is willing to talk about how the faculty is responding to the plans.

    ‘It’s very detached. That’s more to do with the concept of a branch campus in general, and it still has to be made clearer how that fits into the goals of the faculty. There is also dissatisfaction with how quickly everything is going.’

    Not addressed

    The other committee members are not expressing their thoughts just yet. ‘I absolutely have opinions about the process of the Yantai project and the role of the board within that. Alas, I don’t currently feel free enough to communicate about it’, says Frans Rutte. FEB dean Harry Garretsen also declined to comment. Yantai has his ‘full attention’, he says. But it is ‘not productive to give the opinion of a single faculty’.

    ‘Getting closer to the go/no-go decision though, I see many details are not addressed’, says PhD candidate and university council member Rieza Aprianto. ‘Either the Board doesn’t want to share their considerations with us or the Board has not thought about them. I really hope it is the case of the former, although that would be quite strange.’

    Much remains unclear, Aprianto says. ‘Many details seem to be even made up on the spot. Recruitment of lecturers, for example. Chinese lecturers will spend six months in Groningen to ‘learn’ to teach the Dutch style.’

    Political questions

    ‘And then there’s academic freedom’, says Albers. ‘We don’t want to only begin teaching classes there where people learn how to work with test tubes. We want to be an academic institution that shapes social debate. That means that you have to consider political questions. Guarantees have been given for the Dutch employees in China, but 90 per cent of the students will be Chinese. It can’t just be the case that academic freedom only applies on campus.’

    The ability to do independent research in an environment where you are unable to access articles because public search engines are blocked by the government is also questionable. ‘Those are fundamental questions that we want to discuss. It remains unclear and there are still many unanswered questions. But we don’t have the time to answer all of them, since the go/no-go decision is just over a month away.’