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hans van den berg voorzitter universiteitsraad
Hans van den Berg, chair of the University Council. Image credit: Personal Archive

According to the president Van den Berg, it was proved again: the dull image of the U-council is not always justified. “Every year, important subjects are addressed, like the university budget, involving millions of euros. And then there are this year’s initiatives, particularly relating to the well-being of students and staff. We keep the discussion going about what can be done, and we make concrete proposals for more psychologists at the university, for example.” These are complex subjects with a lot of different aspects, says Van den Berg. “As the council, you are expected to quickly review them, even though they involve millions of euros and the near future of the university. In my view, reaching a decision with a good dialogue every year is a milestone.”

Elmer Smaling
Elmer Smaling, editor of EM Image credit: Sanne van der Most

And according to EM editor Elmer Smaling, who has been monitoring the U-council for years, the council can be sexy. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have followed it for five years.” As an example, Smaling mentions what has been achieved in terms of sustainability. “The council has worked really hard for this, with the result that the university now needs to consider sustainability in every strategy plan.” 1 He also sees that members have an impact on other themes. “For example, the council played an important role in developing measures to protect whistle-blowers.”

Conflicts about proctoring and elections

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Although much was achieved, the cooperation in the University Council was not without problems. Proctored exams proved a sensitive subject. “There was a lot of disagreement on this,” says Smaling. “But at least they devote a lot of attention to the subject and ensure that the Executive Board is extra careful when introducing new methods.”

There was also – last year but even before that – disagreement about the elections themselves. EUR is the only university in the Netherlands to have a decentralised election system. Every faculty is represented in the council by several students and staff. “The students in the council want a party system, but the employees aren’t keen,” says Smaling. “This would give students more visibility and more votes, but the staff are unwilling to put more time into campaigns.”

Van den Berg recognises the increased number of conflicts in his council. “That may be because we aren’t seeing each other by the coffee machine now. Discussions during online meetings seem to be more difficult. But those tensions and conflicts are not always bad. And the disagreements sometimes seem worse than they actually are. Take the issue with proctored exams. In the end, the staff largely agreed with the students: they don’t want a second camera if students don’t want it.”

New members, new insights

Van den Berg looks forward to the elections and welcoming the new council members after the elections. “The old members are the ‘memory’ of the council, and the new faces provide new insights. This helps us find out what the issues are and what should be addressed.”

The focus recently has been on managing the current situation and all the problems it has created. Understandably, says Van den Berg, but it is also time to consider solutions for the coming period. For example: “Even before the pandemic, council members were involved in digitising teaching material and exploring how to make online lectures more accessible and inclusive. In a very short space of time, we acquired a lot of experience. Furthermore, it’s good to see how we can use this knowledge to make education more accessible. More students with various restrictions, for example their geographical location or socio-economic background, will then be able to take part in education. There are many possibilities and opportunities here and the U-council is already busy exploring these.”

The previous episode of EM TV

EM TV: Lecturers are also yearning for on-campus education

This episode of EM TV is about the reopening of the campus.

  1. For years, the council has been saying that sustainability should be a fundamental priority of the university. As a result of that involvement, the university board acknowledged its importance. ↩︎