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OPINION: The window is open but the curtains are closed

OPINION: The window is open but the curtains are closed

Photographer:Fotograaf: Flickr.com/Theresa Thompson

The University Council is transparent in theory, but a lot could be done on the practical points, says UCM student Sophie Silverstein in this opinion article.

I have a major pet peeve: students who complain that Maastricht University does not promote participation but then refuse to even acknowledge what the university actually does to this end. My assumption was that if you dig enough you will find something, but what will that something be? To answer this question I decided to do some more digging.

On March 29th I attended the plenary session of the University Council, the monthly meeting where the Executive Board meets with staff and student representatives. These meetings are supposed to be publicly accessible. Full disclosure: I was presenting in the speaker’s corner so I got all the information about the date, time, and place by e-mail directly from one of the student representatives. If you don’t have this, the first hurdle presents itself now: There are so many events for students every day in Maastricht and the meetings are not exactly prominently advertised. Unless you are actively looking the session will not show up on your radar. This makes the meetings only open to the public in theory, a freedom from obstacles to attend without being freely or actively invited.

Once I got to the location, a top-floor meeting room in one of the more obscure buildings in Randwyck, the phrase “structural exclusion” popped into my mind. The meeting room is dominated by a square of tables, each place outfitted with a microphone and a name card for the respective occupant. A handful of chairs stands loosely to one side. It’s possible to sit there, but the way the room is set up makes it clear: an audience is not really welcome, or even expected, here.

I had another appointment before the meeting ended, so I left half an hour early. I still wanted to take a look at the minutes to see what I’d missed. Minutes, however, are sporadically published. In the overview of plenary sessions since 2016, only one set of minutes has been published. Finding the agenda before the meeting had been a similar experience. Regular members of the University Council are provided with an agenda and other relevant material in advance, but as an outsider it seems impossible to tell if issues you care about will be discussed during the three hour meeting.

The window is already open, the opportunity to keep abreast of UM decision making exists, but the curtains are closed. Access could easily be facilitated, the metaphorical curtains opened: broader advertisement through channels integrated into students’ everyday lives (not pandering to students but becoming realistic about the ways in which they pick up information and adapting), logistically accessible meetings (a meeting room that physically invites an audience), and, the trite buzzword, transparency (let’s see those documents we need before and after meetings).

Sophie Silverstein, UCM student

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