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Opinion: “Elected boards? Will that benefit science?”

Opinion Gerald van Breukelen

MAASTRICHT. Should students and staff elect their boards, as René Gabriëls on behalf of the NUM wrote in the last Observant? Gerard van Breukelen, professor of Methodology & Statistics, is not at all convinced. Gabriëls’ proposal  “sounds  a bit too much like ‘all power to the Sovjets’”, he argues.

In his letter (Observant 28) René Gabriëls, on behalf of the New University Maastricht (NUM), gives a lengthy and very critical reply to David Bernstein’s letter (Observant 27) about the NUM.  The following lines in Gabriëls’ letter struck me as needing some explanation to all ‘naive’ academics, including not just Bernstein, but perhaps also Ralf Peeters, who on page 2 of Observant 28 feels that the old university is not that bad at all, and myself who agrees with Ralfs feeling.

Gabriëls writes: “The basic principle of democracy is that people should have the opportunity to influence and control (!) the decisions that are made by others and affect their quality of life. Affected by the decisions made by the executive board and faculty boards the NUM makes the proposal to elect the president and the deans …”.

Apparently, a premisse by Gabriëls and the NUM is that a university should be democratic and that its members should not only influence, but also control (!) the decisions that affect them.  By this same premisse, nurses and patients should control, perhaps elect, the board of the university hospital, and employees and customers of companies should control and elect the company CEO and CFO, and soldiers should control and elect their generals. Perhaps prisoners should also be allowed to elect the prison board. After all, they are affected by the board’s decisions!

It is one thing to say that students and staff should be informed by their boards about policy and intended decisions, including the reasons for these, and that boards should seriously listen to questions, worries and suggestions from students and staff before making important decisions. In fact, I have not yet encountered a board at the UM which does not do so. It is quite another thing to have students and staff control or elect their boards. Perhaps ‘Gabriëls and the NUM can explain to all naive members in the UM community why the latter is a good idea, and how that will benefit science and tax paying society ? And whether their proposal extends to the boards of hospitals, companies and armies? And if not, then why not? Right now, their proposal sounds to me a bit too much like “All power to the Sovjets”.

On behalf of myself and hopefully also of all naive academics,

Gerard van Breukelen, Professor of Methodology & Statistics



2015-04-16: David
Dear Prof van Breukelen, your opinion article would have been a good opportunity to present an argument against more democracy and devolution of powers at the university, but you have not included a single one. In a democratic society it is usually for the anti-democrats to justify their position, not vice-versa. But here is a good argument anyway, from your colleagues at UvA:

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