Many questions during first SQUAD meetings

The SQUAD project, a five-year operation aimed to boost the quality of TU/e’s support services, kicked off yesterday with meetings for staff members of the two services that will set the ball rolling: Data Management and Library (DML) and Information Management and Services (IMS). During the morning, the Services Council spoke to program manager Pieter Binsbergen.

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photo Bart van Overbeeke

Staff members of the services Data Management and Library (DML) and Information Management and Services (IMS) sat down face to face for the first on Thursday afternoon September 30 after heaving met earlier during online information sessions about the SQUAD trajectory. DML staff members gathered in the movie theatre in the Zwarte Doos, and IMS staff members met in the Blauwe Zaal in the Auditorium. Cursor was not allowed to attend the meetings, but there was an opportunity to ask the attendees of the DML meeting some questions afterwards. As it turned out, they were satisfied with what they had heard.

Communications adviser Anne Kwak and education coordinator Roberta De Franco make a relaxed impression. Kwak: “The atmosphere was pleasant and I felt that I was being taken seriously.” De Franco adds: “I asked about the purpose of this phase (collecting information, ed.) and the anticipated course. I was told that the plans are expected to be completed by 2024, but that they won’t be implemented yet by that time.”

Vanessa Henraat, who spoke on behalf of the SQUAD project team, indicated that the staff members feel strongly about the issue. “They had many questions, which is a very good thing. They wanted to know about the timeline, for example, and what the impact will be on other, current programs and on collaborations with departments. SQAUD’s goal is to enter into an ongoing dialogue with your partners: what works well and what needs improvement, and continuously implement that. SQUAD doesn’t stop, it really needs to flow in the blood.”

DML director Merle Rodenburg, who will start as managing director at the department of the Built Environment in 2022, is also satisfied with the first physical meeting with her personnel. “It was great to see that so many people weren’t afraid to ask questions, and I believe that vice-president Nicole Ummelen managed to successfully convey the message that we are in this together. But she was also honest when she said that we don’t know exactly at this point what the situation will be like in a few months’ time.”

Meeting of the Services Council

Cursor did attend the monthly public meeting of the Services Council (DR) in the morning. This co-determination body that represents the interests of the staff members of TU/e’s eleven support services still holds its meeting via Teams. The members of the DR had the opportunity to present their questions to Pieter Binsbergen of organization advisory office Fundatis, who has been appointed program manager by the Executive Board. Back in July, DR chair Leon van de Vorstenbosch, who wasn’t present at today’s meeting, had already expressed his serious concerns about SQUAD.

His DR colleagues wanted to know from Binsbergen how the university expects to strike an even balance between quality and efficiency when it has already become clear at this point that the support services won’t be awarded with additional funding in the future. The budgets for the services will be based on the annual budget of 2018. Binsbergen briefly explained why the new budgets aren’t based on the annual budgets for 2019 or 2020. During those years, he said, the administrative and support staff (OBP) supposedly received additional funding on an occasional basis to support teaching activities. This led to a distorted picture of the actual budget. Binsbergen acknowledged that TU/e has a very sparse ratio of scientific staff to support staff, but the program manager added that the Eindhoven university is no longer front runner in Dutch academia. However, he wasn’t able to immediately come up with an institution where that ratio is even more sparse.

Customized approach

The DR also wanted to know which job responsibilities the support services will no longer have to carry out when new ones are added while the budget remains the same, especially in light of work pressure, which is extremely high among members of the administrative and support staff as it is. Binsbergen: “It’s true that you can only do new things if you stop doing certain old things. That’s something you need to discuss with those you provide with services.  I can image that you want to do your work to the best of your abilities and that you want to offer a customized approach. That’s what the discussion should be about, because customization will cost money.”

Back in July, vice-president Ummelen had said that the university will have to opt for standardized processes and systems more frequently instead of for a customized approach. Ummelen at the time: “I understand that everyone prefers a customized approach, but that’s very expensive; we will need to find the right balance between these approaches.”

Island kingdom

The participants in the meeting also addressed the risk that the services that haven’t yet gotten around to writing a self-evaluation will postpone certain decisions, such as whether or not to fill vacancies, in anticipation of the continuation of the process. Binsbergen doesn’t want the OBP to come to a standstill, but these matters need to be thoroughly discussed, he said. “You don’t want to have done something within your service that turns out not to be the result of the evaluation.” He believes that the services are currently still “operating from behind their walls too much. We need to break with that, we want to turn a group of islands into one island kingdom. Or even better: one kingdom.”

Binsbergen was also informed about the unrest among members of the administrative and support staff caused by the announcement of SQUAD. There is supposedly a culture of fear at certain services, and managers supposedly aren’t open to ideas from people in the workplace. As a result, people feel “numbed” even before the operation has started within their service, and they feel that SQUAD is yet another reorganization they have no choice but to accept. Binsbergen said that he wants to calm the situation down as soon as possible, “so that we can move ahead with this operation during the next five years, after which we will evaluate the situation in the sixth year.”

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