Letschert: Twitter storm about use of retirees “blown out of proportion”

10-12-2020

MAASTRICHT. Is Maastricht University going to use retired lecturers as volunteers to mark exams and supervise theses? This is what a University Council committee asked rector Rianne Letschert last Wednesday.

Where did that question come from? Mid November, rector Carel Stolker from Leiden University appealed to all his retired colleagues and alumni to come and help with the marking of exams and supervision of theses. After all, the work pressure was horrifically high. It generated a lot of fuss on Twitter. This is what Rens Bod from WOinActie wrote: “Dear Carel Stolker, a tip: instead of promoting the use of retirees, call it a problem and approach the press! Show that universities cannot function properly in this present situation. That is how you can help us. Not in this way.” But there were also positive reactions. One came from rector Rianne Letschert: “Good idea! Emeriti have also contacted us too, offering help. Nice!!”

What was that about, the University Council wanted to know. “I don’t want paid positions to be taken over by unpaid staff,” Letschert explains immediately. “But we are dealing with a crisis here, and then you need to be flexible. It was completely blown out of proportion on Twitter. I received e-mails from emeriti who wanted to help, how nice is that in times of crisis? I passed them on to the education institute of the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences.” In this context, she referred to the article in Observant on a research report into the well-being of retired researchers. They feel abandoned by the UM, and it saddens them that they are no longer part of the UM family: “They want to belong again.”

Mark Govers, member on behalf of the academic staff, said that he was surprised by the negative reactions on Twitter. “It is valuable if older people can guide youngsters, isn’t it?” But that is not what the Twitter storm was about, University Council chairperson Amanda Kluveld emphasised. It has everything to do with a broader problem: the way too high work pressure at universities, and the fact that young people have hardly any career perspectives. And as far as the retirees are concerned: “I agree that they deserve much better, but it is a disgrace that the report only relates to academic staff and not the support staff. They are also part of our community; they can also make an important contribution to the UM after retirement.”

Thomas Vaessen, student member of the University Council, wondered if the problem with the e-mail addresses of those who have retired – which, to the annoyance of many, disappear the day after they retire – couldn’t be solved in a simple way: “In the case of graduates, ‘alumni’ is added to the account. Why couldn’t something like that be done for former employees?” Letschert: “Everything is possible, but it costs money. We have to pay for every e-mail account.” She didn’t say how much that would be.