Who or what is the crisis team?
Participation was sidelined when crisis started
Once the coronavirus reached the Netherlands, the board of directors had to implement measures in order to ‘continue teaching in a responsible manner’, the UG board said.
This led to the cancellation of on-site education mid-March, research being postponed, and the UG going into lockdown. All of this happened without consultation of the university council or any other kind of participation, the university council said, criticising the process.
De Vries explained that the UG had no choice. The university had to act fast because of the actions from the government and the Groningen Safety Region.
The university was facing the enormous task of having to guarantee education and safety, said De Vries. ‘We had to act fast or we’d be facing a slew of different problems. To address the claim that participation was sidelined during this process… It’s possible this happened the first few weeks.’
Earlier, the university council had criticised what it felt was a not very democratic or transparent process. ‘Who decides what happens to us?’ asked Antoon de Baets with the personnel faction.
They were surprised by the sudden presence of the UG Central Crisis Team (CCT), which no one knew existed, De Baets said. They also didn’t know who was on the CCT. Nevertheless, this team was suddenly making decisions on a myriad of crucial issues while participation was pushed to the side.
However, De Vries said the CCT isn’t a new team. It was created after the terrorist attacks in the US in September 2001, on the insistence of the ministry of Education. The sleeper team is activated whenever needed.
‘You need something when you have to respond quickly to a crisis’, said De Vries. He said the corona outbreak in the Netherlands met these criteria. On top of that, the UG had only limited leeway, since its actions were partly determined by the Safety Region and Groningen mayor Koen Schuiling. He emphasised the situation was normalised as much as possible afterwards.
The board presented a thirty-page report to the council detailing the operation of the CCT and the board over the past few months of the corona crisis.
One interesting detail is a mention of a visit to the UG by the Chinese ambassador in the Netherlands, Xu Hong. The ambassador, who is originally from the city of Wuhan where the virus first broke out, offered to exchange information about the virus and its spread with the UMCG.
The CCT then liaised between the hospital’s infectious disease department, microbiologist Alex Friedrich, and hospitals in Wuhan.