Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts
New University Maastricht’s first debate
MAASTRICHT. “Let them in, let them in,” students chant as the door to the crowded lecture hall (ninety seats) at University College closes. People interested in the debate organised by The New University Maastricht wait outside on Tuesday evening. This new community, just like the occupiers of the Maagdenhuis in Amsterdam are pleading for more democracy, that is, more control for students and staff at universities. They oppose, among other things, funding based on output (graduates, PhD graduates, scientific publications) and the large number of temporary contracts for researchers.
Eventually some visitors are allowed to use the steps, a handful is sent to the balcony and a student organises a live stream. At the end of the evening, one thing is at least clear: in the coming weeks, when the second debate is to be held, with the help of the University Council, a move will be made to a larger hall.
“Has anyone ever heard of the speakers corner?” a student asks when all seven speakers have had their turn. They include the chairperson of the debate, a former student of UCM and now a UvA student Lieke Hettinga, René Gabriels from Hervorming Nederlandse Universiteiten (Reforming Dutch Universities), Christoph Rausch from the scientist’s union VAWO and PhD student Andreas Mitzschke. Executive President Martin Paul has just asked those in the hall to use the speaker’s corner during the University Council meeting. Anyone who does not agree with something or would like to bring up a point, can do so from there. Only to add: “That is democracy at the UM, just like our system for Faculty Councils and University Councils. Have your voice heard, participate in the elections.” Only a few people are familiar with the phenomenon of the speakers’ corner.
A student at the rear of the hall: “Part of democracy is that a university communicates matters like this.” The chairman of the University Council, Herman Kingma, strongly agrees. “We have a Facebook page and a PR team, but there is room for improvement.” Paul adds: “Many issues go wrong because of miscommunication.” René Gabriëls does not agree with this: “That is naive, that is not what it is about. It’s about power. Within the present education law administrators have almost all say in everything. I want a new law with more power for students and staff.”
Someone in the hall wants to know if the University Council is even capable of taking a hard line. Most certainly, says chairman Kingma and he gives examples: the Council prevented the outsourcing of the guesthouse and is now trying to reduce the number of temporary contracts. “We don’t know anything about that,” a student complains. Olav de Wit, student member of the University Council, stands up: “I want to apologise that you don’t know us. You can always contact us, you can find us on the UM site. I would love to hear from you. Next academic year we will also have ‘right of approval’ for the budget. This means more power.” A student in the centre of the hall complains to the council members: “You only make yourselves heard two weeks before the elections. You don’t advertise.” That is not true, replies a member of the Maastricht Student Council, recognisable by the matching jackets. “I have been studying here for five years and I have been stalked by the councils. I am interested in what they do. I see their programmes. I think this is all about interest. You can find the information.”
A student at the front of the lecture hall sees more in direct democracy instead of the council structure. “I want to participate in the discussion, at the moment you decide and we don’t hear anything.” There are student parties that you can join, another suggests. That is only Novum and Dope, comes another reaction from somewhere in the hall. “You can set up your own party,” another member of the Maastricht Student Council replies fiercely.
Staff member Wiebe Nauta from the Faculty of Arts and Social Science wants to know if students and employees have the right to choose the deans and members of the Executive Board. A good idea, thinks staff Faculty of Law member Birsen Erdogan. “Then you have direct influence.” Martin Paul wonders if the one system is better than the other. “In Germany, the administrators are chosen. Here you have various committees that consist of both students and members of staff to consider matters. As long as everyone has a say, I wouldn’t think it was a problem.” Debate chairperson Lieke Hettinga, who is familiar with the situation both here in Maastricht and in Amsterdam, points out that the board in Maastricht are quite different from the colleagues in Amsterdam: more open and a real will to listen.
At the end of the debate, a student from FaSOS stands up: “We are constantly talking about the form and not the quality of education. Humanities at the UM is in deep trouble, a lot of study programmes have not been approved by the quality auditor (NVAO, ed.).” Dean Rein de Wilde reacts immediately: “We must improve our programmes and we are doing so together with our students. You can come to me with your advice.” “We have already been to the programme leader because we did not agree with the content of the programme,” says someone. “Our criticisms and suggestions were not heard. The members of staff reacted defensively.” De Wilde: “Go to the student members of the Faculty Council or come to me.”
By now, it is ten-thirty and chairperson Hettinga brings the debate to an end with one last round in order to make an inventory of topics for the next debate. High on the agenda is definitely the present council system. A student suggests that a list of demands should first be drawn up before speaking with the Executive Board again. That does not go down well with Martin Paul: “We want to talk with each other in order to solve problems? Then you shouldn’t start with a list of demands.” When the debate has come to a close, René Gabriels wonders if this is not just a case of “repressive tolerance” and whether “it would not be better if students and staff first form their own opinions and then have a discussion. Otherwise you run the risk of becoming encapsulated.”
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The time and location of the second debate are not known yet. See www.facebook.com/NUMaastricht for the latest news