Interview with the board of directors
What will the UG look like after the viral crisis?
Do you have a question?
Every week, rector Cisca Wijmenga, board president Jouke de Vries, and board member Hans Biemans will be answering the most burning questions from the academic community.
Do you have a question for the board? Send a mail to email@example.com
It’s likely that the social distancing economy will be the new normal for the foreseeable future. What would that look like at the university?
Cisca Wijmenga: ‘Last week, I published a vlog asking people to send me their creative solutions to this problem. I’d like to repeat my question here. I think the university’s strength is in all of us together trying to come up with a solution. What do to on a campus where cyclists get close to each other parking their bikes, and where large groups of people have to pass through the same doorway? It’s a problem that concerns all of us, and I think we need to solve it together.’
The University of Leiden ran a test using proctoring software that utilises students’ webcams and microphones to keep an eye on them during online exams. Responses to the use of this software are varied. Can we expect this software at the UG any time soon?
Cisca Wijmenga: ‘We’re not using any proctoring software yet, but we are keeping an eye on what’s happening on a national level. Not just in Leiden, but elsewhere as well. Administering exams online is new to us, and we do want to keep an eye on things. It’s possible we might use the software in the future, but we don’t know yet. Everyone is currently sharing their best practices, and we’re keeping track of those. We just issued a new guideline which offers lecturers a broad range of options in terms of digital exams.
One of the criticisms is that this software might endanger students’ privacy. How do you feel about this, on principle?
Jouke de Vries: ‘The reality is that we have to be looking to new ways of administering exams. Monitoring mechanisms are a part of that. Various experiments are underway, and I’m sure they will lead to many great solutions. If this software leads to good results, we might want to experiment with it as well. It’s an exceptional situation, and we have to come up with exceptional measures. We can’t really express any fundamental position on it at this time.’
The elections for both the university council and the faculty councils are scheduled to take place mid-May. What’s going to happen with those?
Hans Biemans: ‘As the board, we’ve indicated what we feel are the options available to us. We could have the elections now, but then everyone would miss out on being able to campaign. Normally, the various parties like to present themselves, handing out flyers and getting out there. We’re talking to the students about how to best have the elections. It’s up to them to decide what they want to do. The most important thing right now is preserving the process of participation.’
How will you be organising that process of participation over the next few weeks, if not months? How will you ensure that everyone has access?
Hans Biemans: ‘We have a video conference once a week with the university council to update them on the state of affairs. They’re critical of this process, but they understand that this is how it has to be for now. We make sure to document it, and the discussions are made publicly available afterwards. The council agrees with this process. In the meantime, we’re looking for the best way to discuss topics: can we do this in accordance with the normal course of advice?’
But you are involving the council in the decisions concerning the corona measures?
Jouke de Vries: ‘Yes, we share all decisions with them. We want to be as transparent as possible and I feel we provide a lot of information. On top of that, the council still has the right to advise and consent to certain things. But there will undoubtedly be things we’ll want to talk about later, and we will. I can imagine that when things go back to normal, whenever that may be, we’ll sit with them and account for our decisions.’
Hans Biemans: ‘The most important thing is when we’re able to have meetings in person again. The university council has twenty-four members, which means meetings with them are vast and complicated. It’s really difficult to have a discussion over video; you miss out on things like body language. But that’s just how it is right now.
We can imagine you’re working on several things at once. What is the most high-priority case for you right now?
Cisca Wijmenga: ‘Online education and online exams. We’ve already put a lot of energy into those, and we’ll continue to do so. An important issue that came up the past week was the bachelor-before-master rule. Technically, students who hadn’t finished their bachelor wouldn’t be allowed to start the master. Fortunately, the minister is allowing us to give them a break and allowing them to move forward.’
Jouke de Vries: ‘We have to wait and see what’s said at the government press conference on April 21, but maybe the measures will be scaled down a notch after April 28. If that happens, we have to make sure to quickly get back to business. Obviously, we said that as many people as possible should work from home, but that’s an issue for people doing lab work or medical internships. It’s essential to think how we’d get that up and running again.’