Summer is over and children have returned to school, including my daughter. Naturally, she immediately brought home a friend. When I asked that friend where she went on vacation, she answered, still beaming with joy: “Disneyland.” But when I asked her whether she had by any chance run into our Executive Board there, she gave me a puzzled look.
The reason I asked her that, is because our Executive Board seems to be living in a phantasy world. Because despite the fact that universities across the nation are struggling with staff shortages and that it has become impossible to find a place to live in the Eindhoven region and far beyond, and despite that fact that, as I write this column, some thousand registrations of first-year students still haven’t been fully processed yet, our board reiterates its intention to grow. More students, an extra campus, you name it. But: we need to become large, but feel small.
When it comes to quality of education, we are currently faced with the highly negative consequences of the growth our university experienced over the past years. A survey held among staff members last year showed that work pressure is too high across campus. This leads to an outflow of people who could easily work at other universities, which only increases work pressure even further. Those who stay behind become less social, out of self-protection. Discussions become fiercer, and people give “no” for an answer increasingly often.
Staff members, confronted with student numbers they can no longer cope with, become more and more alienated from the university. And students, who can hardly get in touch with their overworked teachers, feel that the university has become a slow, bureaucratic machine. As a result of the enormous turnover among members of the support staff and the universally hated open plan offices, it’s no longer possible for people to personally know or find their colleagues, which leads to ‘quiet quitting.’
No, TU/e hasn't felt like a small university for a long time.
PS: I write this column in a hotel in Münster, Germany, where I’m attending a conference. Münster is an example of a large town that feels small.