Faculty Councils and University Council: more often ‘conversationalist council’ than a monitoring body


MAASTRICHT. More and more items on the University Council’s and Faculty Councils’ agendas are confidential. Usually at the request of the board that wants to brainstorm about new plans in seclusion for fear of rumours and unrest. Occasionally, a council closes the doors because there is no pressure from the people they represent (“no interest”) to deal with something in public. Sometimes the council members are not aware that they are shutting out these people.

When questioned by Observant about policies on publicity, the fourteen (former) council chairpersons and council members say unanimously: in public, unless. This is in line with the views of the minister of Education. She emphasised this again in June, when the University of Twente’s newspaper U-Today approached her because more and more policy papers, agenda items and documents from the various councils are confidential. “Democracy is dying in the darkness,” the newspaper wrote. “For democracy to work, the curtains must be opened. Light is needed so that people can see what is happening.”

But at the UM there appears to be a considerable amount of flexibility in this unless. The doors are also closed when it doesn't concern appointments (naming names), investments or plans the competition should not know about, i.e. the ‘regular’ issues for a confidential treatment. For example, when the board wants to brainstorm about new plans. Councils agree because they don't want to be excluded from information and are often pleased with their role of advisor. But this also has a price, says university council member Sjaak Koenis: “We act more and more as an extension of the board, as advisors, a ‘conversationalist council’ rather than a monitoring body. I understand that a board sometimes wants to try something out and only make matters public when they have been finalised, but at that moment I can't consult the people I represent because I am bound to confidentiality.”

There are some significant differences between the faculties where it comes to transparency. The past month of November - with the budget (right of approval) as well as the quality agreements (allocation of the study finance advance) on all faculty agendas - shows this well. At four faculties, the door was partially or fully closed: Law, the School of Business and Economics, Health Medicine and Life Sciences, and Science and Engineering (FSE). The fear that information would reach the outside world prematurely, is perhaps most prominent at FSE, a faculty that is being split up and where sensitive decisions have to be taken.

An exception appears to be the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences. The confidential agenda – if there is one - is usually ultra-short. The budget, quality agreements, but also the choice of a new bachelor's programme, are topics for the public meeting. This practice is not only upheld by the council, says council chairwoman Amanda Kluveld, but also by the Faculty Board: “Sophie (Vanhoonacker, dean, ed.) and Jessica (Mesman, member responsible for education, ed.) are in favour of transparency. They are not afraid of unrest or chaos, they think it is a good idea that a lot of people are informed, to enable them to make a contribution.”

Faculty Councils and University Council: more often ‘conversationalist council’ than a monitoring body