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University Council sends public away during debate on hazing

MAASTRICHT. Last week, the University Council decided to ask the Executive Board questions about sanctions against two student associations - Tragos and Circumflex - but would do so without an audience. Only then would the Executive Board give true answers, was their idea.

According to rector Rianne Letschert, Tragos has now violated the Code of Conduct during the Introduction Period for the second time, and in doing so faces a sanction of about 8,000 euro, the equivalent of thirty ’board months’. The association had already received a formal warning last year.

Circumflex received a warning this year and in the case of recidivism next year, could lose part of its subsidy.

Have questions been asked in the University Council on this matter? No. At least not during the part of the meeting that was open to the public. But such questions were asked in the confidential part of the meeting, said well-informed sources afterwards. (This article is based on their testimony.)

Why this confidentiality? This time, it was not at the request of the Executive Board, says council chairman Jonathan van Tilburg when asked by Observant: “During the preliminary discussions, part of the student fraction requested that the matter be dealt with behind closed doors. The reason was the sensitivity of the subject. This concerns the council members of Dope who are also members of either Tragos or Circumflex.”

One of them was even the chairman of Tragos until recently, and as such partly responsible for the latest hazing.

Van Tilburg personally also moved in that direction. He wondered if the chances of the Executive Board giving frank answers would be greater if the questions were asked in a closed session.

Other students (Novum) objected, with a principled appeal for publicity, but lost: the student members related to Tragos and Circumflex form a majority. The staff fraction stayed in the background for most of this discussion, and also during the (closed) ‘any other business’.

So, only the students asked questions. It was a “heated and lengthy” debate, says Van Tilburg. Why a fine, why so high? From the Tragos/Dope corner, students called for clemency, using the argument that Tragos “was still young and was not well-informed enough about what is allowed and what is not”. Tragos was founded in 1982.

Another important question concerned the exact nature of the violations. Letschert gave no further details, at least no more than she had already given last week through Observant: infringement in the areas of personal hygiene, food, and night's rest. Furthermore, she stated that the picture was not only based on the report by the director of the Student Services Centre, but also on talks with students participating in the hazing.

New was also the fact that she now explained her motives. The Executive Board had taken such firm action, because it wants to make it clear to the associations and the outside world that violation of the hazing Code of Conduct is taken seriously. “Our aim was to make an impact, we wanted to send a strong signal, this is an important issue for the university,” Letschert is supposed to have said.

There is also the question of competences: if the University Council has the power of approval with regard to the allocation of ‘board months’, can the rector withdraw this independently without consulting the council? Apparently, this matter is now being looked into.

The rector was also asked about her change in course with regard to the publicity policy. Last year, she was transparent about the exact nature of the violations and her response; she added then that there was no reason to be “secretive” about such matters. This year, however, her lips were sealed. The only thing that the outside world heard, was that infringements of the Code of Conduct had occurred and which sanctions the Executive Board had announced.

According to sources, Letschert admitted that she had changed her mind about publicity in the course of last year. Considering the eagerness of the ‘popular’ media to pounce on hazing issues, publicity could lead to stigmatisation of the associations, and to the idea that the Maastricht student associations are no good either (compare Vindicat in Groningen). She wanted to protect the associations from being seen in that light. The rector added that she had not given any details last year about what happened during the hazing period. This is correct, to the extent that she did not do so personally. SSC director Breuls was the one to provide the details, obviously with the rector's approval. This year, Breuls was made to understand that he should not divulge any details. Agreements on restrictive publicity were also made with the chairpersons of the associations.

The student fraction appeared satisfied with the answers given. A council member said afterwards: “This rector has a great deal of credit with this council”.

In the meantime, it remains to be seen whether keeping the nature of this meeting closed, resulted in what Van Tilburg had expected from the measure. Would the rector not have wanted to say all of this in public? That is quite possible, especially because even now Letschert had not given any details about the most delicate issue: the exact course of events during the hazing sessions.

 

There is also the fact that, because the University Council had their meeting behind closed doors, the rest of the university, so approximately twenty thousand people minus the 18 University Council members, officially know nothing about the above-mentioned debate. Does the council feel that the Executive Board's policy was justified? Too strict? Not strict enough? This remains unclear for the university community.

When chairman Van Tilburg was confronted with this, he admitted that this was indeed a problem. The day after the council meeting, he said that he would propose in the University Council's executive committee to draw up a statement soon, containing the council's viewpoint.

Indeed, on Tuesday, 3 October, the executive committee issued a statement, saying that it regrets the violations of the Code of Conduct, but that the Council unfortunately cannot take a stance, as it has not been informed of the exact nature of the violations.

Lastly: Observant has of course asked the rector to comment on this article. She declined the offer.

 

 

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