No emails or grades due to ‘work-to-rule’
I’ve joined the so-called ‘work-to-rule’ strike organised by WOinActie. This means that I only work as many hours as I’m contracted for. Over the past few years, structurally working overtime has had a negative effect on my private life and my well-being.
This is the autoreply of lecturers participating in the ‘work-to-rule’ strike. This means that lecturers work ‘normal’ eight-hour workdays, no more and no less. ‘If I work a regular eight hours, only on workdays and not during the weekend, I don’t even come close to finishing my work, says Barend van Heusden, professor of art and humanities.
‘We want to show that the work pressure at the university is too high’, he says. The number of students has increased by 68 percent since 2000, while government funding has only increased 25 percent per student. On top of that, the Netherlands spend much less on academic education than other countries; it’s at number 19 in the world ranking, just below Turkey, Serbia, and Slovakia.
Yoga classes and stuff
‘There is something really wrong at universities here’, says Casper Albers, adjunct professor of applied statistics and data visualisation. The university is taking action to combat stress, but it’s ‘just yoga classes and stuff’.
Nobody is coming up with structural solutions, he says. ‘The university board agrees with us and says we should take it to the minister. But the minister just sends us back to our board.’
‘Many lecturers have an extremely tight schedule’, says Maarten Goldberg, FNV union consultant at the RUG. ‘That means they often have to do other work outside their scheduled hours.’ Goldberg doesn’t encounter this problem for himself, but he is participating in the strike. ‘I’m sympathetic, because I understand exactly why they’re doing this.’
Casper Alber’s students aren’t unduly affected by the strike. ‘It’s more towards colleagues or other staff who email me.’ He often receives messages from psychology people who need something analysed and have questions about the statistic of their project. But Albers doesn’t commit to them; any extra hours he has goes to his own research.
Van Heusden is taking a different approach: during the strike he will not be checking exams within the ten-day period prescribed. ‘Students think it’s easy for us to check their work, but they don’t realise how long it takes. A lot of lecturers have this problem.’
Goldberg has noticed this issue as well. ‘We use a certain norm to calculate the number of education hours. If you use an average class of twenty students as the norm, everything works out.’
But when a class is particularly popular and has, for example, twenty-five students, lecturers are faced with a lot more work. ‘They’ll have to check five more papers, answer mail from five more people.’
At a certain point, this gets in the way of other tasks. ‘It feels like all you do is teach, and superiors get on your case for not publishing more articles.’ That means lecturers spend their free time on their research. ‘That’s not right, but it happens all the time.’
Fortunately, many students have responded positively to the strike, says Van Heusden. ‘I explained to them this morning that it would take longer and why, and their response was pretty great’, he says. ‘I could do it in the time allotted, but then I’d just give it a cursory glance and give it a fairly random grade.’ He wouldn’t be able to properly comment on the students’ work. ‘Then they wouldn’t learn anything.’
Big bag of money
Casper Albers doesn’t think the strike will make much of a difference. ‘I don’t expect the minister to suddenly get it and give us a big bag of money to buy some new colleagues’, says Albers.
After all, professors are a lot less threatening than, say, a bunch of farmers. ‘Ministers know that we’ll still be coming up with perfectly nuanced arguments when we’re angry. It’s just not very news-worthy.’
‘But we do want to send a signal and show that we’re willing to take action’, he says. They want to make sure that if they ever strike for real, it won’t be a surprise. ‘We’ve already demonstrated what we’re willing to do for change.’