“University Council’s work should be appreciated more”

The elections for new University Council members will not be held until early December, but the search for candidates is in full swing already. Cursor sat down with representatives of the student factions and the staff faction and with rector Frank Baaijens to ask them about the purpose and necessity of this work. Professor Boudewijn van Dongen, former member of staff faction PUR, believes that University Council’s work should be appreciated more. “I highly recommend it to anyone who wishes to know what actually happens here administratively, and who wants to exert some influence.”

During the two years that Boudewijn van Dongen was active for the nine-member PUR faction, he learned a great deal about what is feasible policy-wise and what is not. “The look behind the scenes in itself makes serving on the University Council worthwhile, even if it’s only for a short period,” Van Dongen says.

He himself had to bid the council farewell after only two years because of an expansion of his tasks. “A compensation of one day a week for carrying out this work looks great on paper. At the time, my professor was fine with it as long as I kept carrying out my regular tasks, but it would have been helpful if I had had a teaching-assistant at the time.”

Benefit

According to Jos Coenen, staff member at Information Management & Sciences and chairman of PUR, the compensation rule is even more important today than in the past. “Work pressure is really very high currently for many of us, and that is the reason why people often don’t even contemplate taking seat on the University Council. Managers should show more appreciation for the fact that one of their employees wants to take a seat on the council. The entire department or group can benefit from that, because a University Council member is close to the source when it comes to the most recent policy measures.”

Van Dongen would like to go one step further and actually make it part of an assessment. “But I know that’s formally not allowed, it can’t come up during your year-end performance review. That’s a shame, because if you want to build a career at TU/e, understanding the ins and outs of the policies here can really be of added value. And I certainly speak from experience. In my current position, I still benefit from what I’ve learned on the University Council.”

Motivation

The three representatives of the student factions – Charlot Felderhof of DAS, and Arthur Nijdam and Luuk Meeuwis of the recently merged ‘Groep-één: Eindhovense Studentenraad – say that this applies to them as well. “You do need to be seriously motivated if you’re going to occupy yourself with the university’s policy for six months or longer,” Nijdam says. “But there are more than enough motivated students at TU/e who have gained experience in the past in a department council, for example. Don’t be worried that you’ll have to deal with the university’s overall policy. Each faction member has their own focus areas that suit their interests, and for which they sit on one of the committees.”

Nijdam says that the council always adopts a “healthy critical attitude” during its discussions with the Executive Board. Meeuwis: “The board is open to that, but we are well aware of the fact that our side gets to participate, but not determine. So, you have to find solutions together, because when you bring matters to a head, it usually doesn’t lead to better results.”

The student faction members say that meeting with policy officers in the preparatory phase to discuss topics they are working on at the request of the Executive Board is also very interesting. Meeuwis: “You learn a lot from that, it gives you more insight into why certain decisions were taken, and you can provide input on behalf of the people you represent in order make the policy measures even better.”

Too vague

Felderhof sees a task for herself and her colleagues as far as the latter issue is concerned: “Students still often only have vague idea of what we do for them exactly, and so, we have to work at making that more visible.” But the three students also understand that not everyone is interested in their work, or in TU/e’s policy. Nijdam: “That’s not such a problem, but you do need to realize, for instance, that increasing work pressure among the scientific staff also has direct consequences for students. So, it’s wise to think about that and try to work towards a solution to this problem, possibly through the University Council.”

That also applies to the developments in education at TU/e, Meeuwis says. “We regularly consult with Lex Lemmens and Paul Koenraad, the deans of the Bachelor College and the Graduate School. They are very transparent about what they are doing and share everything with our education committees. There, too, you are really involved in the development of tomorrow’s education.”

PUR chairman Coenen welcomes the fact that students and staff members find more and more common ground in the University Council and that they work together on many issues. “That development contributes to the improvement of the recommendations we submit to the Executive Board, because many of the things that take place here affect both the staff and the students, such as the aforementioned work pressure, for example.”

Competences

The University Council recently issued a kind of pamphlet in which it summed up the competences you develop after serving on the council for some time. These include the ability to hold effective meetings, solution-orientated thinking, structuring of processes, debating skills, chairing committees, process management, insight into budgetary systems and expanding your internal network.

Van Dongen once again emphasizes how much he has learned during that short period. “It’s one thing to stand on the sidelines next to the coffee machine and express an opinion, or voice criticism in a column. But it’s only after you become part of the policy process that you start to understand how complex matters can be, and that will radically change your way of looking at it.”

Rector Frank Baaijens: “The University Council needs to be a reflection of TU/e”

“In my experience, the collaboration with the University Council these last few years has always been constructive,” Baaijens says. “Both the students and the staff members on the council are committed to shape policy measures as well as they can. That is why the University Council needs to be a reflection of TU/e, meaning that it should be made up of students, supporting staff and scientists.”

Baaijens is also a strong advocate of running for a council position. “Serving on the University Council gives you a totally different perspective on everything that takes place here, and on how we make our policy. Outsiders often only see the end result of a policy process, which many people have been working on for a long time. Sometimes even over a period of years. The University Council is the right place if you want to learn more about the complexity of this process. Even if it’s just for a short period. Managers should free up time for staff members who are interested, and show them the appreciation that serving on the council deserves. It’s a tremendous learning experience for students, if only because of all the activities you perform within the council.”

Informal consultation

The monthly University Council meetings address topics that have been talked over and discussed previously in a variety of committees. Baaijens: “We regularly hold informal consultations, which shouldn’t suggest that all kinds backroom deals are concocted there. That certainly is not the case. People put their feet up on the table during these meetings, and everyone is free to speak their mind without being held to account. It’s a great way to remove obstacles and to address policy plans in an early stage.”

The University Council and the Executive Board did not have any serious conflicts in recent years. Baaijens: “But you can never entirely rule that out, of course. The last time things got a little heated was when we discussed the increase in the number of credits needed for a positive binding recommendation. But we managed to figure that out together as well. And that certainly has to do with mutual trust and the willingness to listen to each other. Because without that, one side will soon dig its heels in.”

 

Elections TU/e 2019

This year, elections will be held for student section representatives on the University Council (UR) and the Department Councils (FR’s), as well as for staff representatives on the UR, FR’s and the Services Council (DR). Counts will be voted electronically.

For anyone who is thinking about applying as candidate: the period for applying runs from Thursday 24 to Monday 28 October. The list of candidates must be delivered to the Central Electoral Committee by the submitter in person, no later than 17:00 hrs. on the final day of the term for the nominations.

Electronic voting will take place this year on Tuesday 3 December and Wednesday 4 December. Voters can cast their votes through the electronic voting system between 00:00 hours on the first day until midnight on the second day (Dutch time).

For more information go to: https://intranet.tue.nl/en/university/medezeggenschap/elections/.

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