The University Council is the university’s most prominent representative body, which advises the Executive Board on all sorts of policy matters and has a say in how the university’s budget is to be spent. The Council has 24 elected members, including twelve students, who are elected every May in university-wide elections.
For years, students were only allowed to stand for election to the University Council as individuals; they were not allowed to form parties and stand together. The most recent attempt to establish a student political party, Erasmian Unity, ran into objections raised by the Central Polling Station even before the 2020 elections, and died soon afterwards.
Since then, the electoral rules have been revised. Not only are students now allowed to form political parties, but they are also allowed to pass excess votes for higher-ranking candidates to the next person on their list, which makes it more appealing for candidates to stand together.
Aeffix was born on a Sunday morning in the University Library, say candidates and current councillors Sandra Constantinou (ranked No. 2 on the party’s list) and Tom van Dijken (No. 3). It was their fellow councillor Patryk Jarmakowicz (ranked No. 1 on the list) who came up with the idea for a party. Friso Roos (another current councillor) will be ranked No. 4 on the list. Two new members have expressed an interest in joining them on the list. The idea of placing sixty students on the list and so gathering many votes, which is done in many other university towns, does not seem to have occurred to them yet.
This is partly because Aeffix’s members mainly seek to be trailblazers, say Sandra and Tom. “We are taking baby steps,” says Tom. “We don’t aspire to hold a majority on the council, or to guarantee that we’ll be elected.” They aren’t quite sure yet what Aeffix is or may potentially become. “For instance, we wish to be a sounding board for students and provide some continuity,” says Tom. The lack of the latter is a serious problem on the Council, which bleeds knowledge every year because the vast majority of student members leave after serving on the Council for one year. “It took me a few months to really get into the swing of things,” says Sandra. A party may help students find their bearings and preserve knowledge of how things are done.
Less emphasis on exams
The party is neither clearly left nor clearly right on the political spectrum. However, according to Tom, its members do have certain core values in common. “We wish to redefine what ‘success’ means to students. According to the university, ‘success’ means passing your exams and having an impact on society. We have a different opinion on that. We think what matters most is that students have some personal growth, which different people achieve in different ways.”
Aeffix mainly hopes to ensure that students have such personal growth by getting lecturers and students to talk to each other more often. “We want to get to a place where they don’t talk about students, but rather to students,” says Tom. He mainly seeks to focus on ensuring that the university continues to use hybrid teaching properly. For her part, Sandra has previously endeavoured on the Council to have a study on hybrid teaching conducted and wishes to focus on ‘sustainable’ ways to improve students’ mental health – for instance, by establishing a ‘human library’, where people can turn to each other for help and information.
Fear of politicisation unfounded
So when the prospective councillors hit the campaign trail in May, will we be seeing election posters featuring portraits of the party’s top candidate, Patryk Jarmakowicz? Sandra and Tom say that this is not going to happen. “We don’t want to declare one person a great leader,” Sandra explains. “We are not a party of one leader and his followers. We are individuals fighting for common values and ideals. And I think students will be able to remember four faces.” Aeffix will not impose party discipline, either. “We don’t want to rob anyone of their individuality, but of course we will discuss the subjects on the agenda together beforehand. If we’re in it together, we’ll have more of a say,” says Tom.
Some councillors feared that allowing political parties to stand for election would cause the University Council to become politicised. Certain councillors felt that the Council’s collaboration with the Executive Board might be negatively affected by parties’ wish to stand out. Sandra and Tom believe that fear is unfounded. “We actually seek to unite the Erasmian community,” says Sandra. “Of course, we’ll never be able to please everybody, but we actually wish to work on creating more of a sense of community.”