Last week Monday a meeting was held in the library of the University of Amsterdam (UvA) to discuss the best way to campaign against the high work pressure at the university. UvA professor Rens Bod, organizer of the meeting and driving force behind the much-discussed petition by WOinactie (HE in action), called the turn-out 'heartwarming'. Close on four hundred interested people attended, from almost every Dutch university.
Occupational Health Service
Bod was flanked by chairperson Marijtje Jongsma of the academic union VAWO, who discussed various forms of action. There is little sense in holding a general strike against the employers, she thinks, because this is a political problem. A work-to-rule approach, called for recently by the Utrecht professor Ingrid Robeyns, will likely achieve more, she believes. That will make it clear how much overtime lecturers do in the normal run of things.
Another idea was that lecturers could submit complaints en masse to the Occupational Health Service, but at Leiden University this did not achieve the desired effect, as evidenced by remarks by a lecturer at Leiden.
From the floor it was suggested that staff stop cooperating in the program inspections run by accreditation agency NVAO, which are very time consuming. This should get the backing of university administrators, who favor the testing of institutions as a whole, as currently happens in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium.
A lecturer at VU Amsterdam was not keen on the suggestions. Strikes, he felt, had little support: “People are committed to their research and incredibly loyal to their students. If you really want to make a difference, you need the Executive Boards on board, lending their support and closing their buildings for a day. That will drive the message home at the Ministry of Education and cause huge waves in the press.”
That proposal received broad support and Rens Bod too was pleased by it: “We are keen to organize a national day of protest with the Executive Boards on which the universities close all their buildings, except for one; in that building we will hold lectures explaining our reasons for taking action.” He believes it will not be easy to get all the universities on board. The University of Amsterdam will agree, he expects, and probably also Groningen, Nijmegen and Leiden. “Other universities are likely to insist that lectures continue as normal, but it's too early to say anything about that.”
It seems that Bod has gauged the situation correctly as regards Eindhoven's university. According to spokesperson Barend Pelgrim, TU/e's Executive Board is pleased to see so much attention paid to work pressure, "but a day of action on which we close all our doors is not an appropriate response here. The work pressure is high, but it won't be reduced by a one-day strike.