The Good Conversation: towards the next stage
Message from Kristel Baele, President of the Executive Board, and Kees van Paridon, Chair of the University Council
About a year ago, Erasmus University, like several other Dutch universities, saw the rise of a movement seeking to grant staff and students a greater say in the running of their own university, in order to improve the level of education and research at EUR. Several groups joined in the debate, e.g. Philosophy Ground, Rethink EUR and Nieuwe Universiteit Rotterdam (New University Rotterdam). The Executive Board and the University Council subsequently jointly embarked on a project entitled ‘The Good Conversation’, whose objective it was to increase participation and promote a culture of participation at various levels, and to synthesise the most valuable ideas contributed by the various parties.
Last year, several meetings were held as part of the Good Conversation initiative, attended by the Executive Board, University Council, faculty deans and representatives of the aforementioned groups, as well as individual members of staff and students representing faculty councils and programme committees. The attendees identified factors limiting and preventing staff and students from having an effective say in the running of the university. They also discussed potential solutions and best practices to ensure a higher level of participation. Finally, they considered the question as to how to show staff and students that they truly have a say in university matters. This led to an important debate, which resulted in the following conclusions being drawn last autumn:
- There is a need for EUR-wide conditions for participation in the various councils: solid training, support, appreciation and compensation for contributions made to
codetermination. The Executive Board recently presented a proposal to tackle these issues, which the deans will soon discuss with their respective faculty councils and programme committees.
- Effective and serious participation, i.e., a good conversation, benefits from a culture of openness. It is important that board, deans and other management, take an open-minded approach to, and show appreciation for, suggestions made by staff and students. It is also important that they provide the faculty councils and programme committees with all the information they require, and that they provide people with an incentive to take an interest in the running of their university. It is vital that these issues not be discussed at the highest overarching level only, but at the level of the individual faculties in particular.
- Effective participation requires that the various councils provide members of advisory boards with all the information they need. The University Council, faculty councils and programme committees must clearly show staff and students what they are doing, what matters are within their scope of influence, how they have dealt with certain cases, and how interested parties may be able to contribute to their efforts. Collaboration between the various councils could be beneficial in this respect.
Now that new President of the Executive Board and the Chair of the University Council have been appointed, and drawing the first conclusions from the project (see above), The Good Conversation enters a new stage. The Executive Board and the University Council have noticed that The Good Conversation has become more effective at the central level, i.e., at the level of the Board and the Council. Preconditions and opportunities have been created to allow staff and students to have a proper say in the way the university is run.
In order to safeguard and develop this culture of participation further, the President of the Executive Board will regularly have informal meetings with representatives of the University Council.
At faculty level there is still room for improvement in the effective participation / active codetermination. In practice, faculty councils and programme committees are not always granted, nor do they always claim the powers they should have or already have, the latter, especially in view of the law amendments which will soon come into effect. Therefore, the second stage of The Good Conversation will be mainly designed to promote and reinforce decentralised codetermination. The Executive Board and University Council will initiate this process, create preconditions and monitor the situation. Deans, academic staff and students are emphatically invited to join in our efforts to improve our workplace atmosphere and culture of participation, through better facilities and compensation guidelines for contributions.
In order to encourage the EUR community to contribute to this process, a new Good Conversation meeting, open to everyone, will be hosted this Spring. This meeting will be convened on the one hand to tell people about the progress made so far and to celebrate our successes, and on the other hand, to allow us to learn from each other’s efforts and experiences. The meeting is scheduled to take place on the afternoon of Wednesday, 20 April 2016. Detailed information regarding meeting and in which ways you may contribute, will be provided later.
The date of the meeting has been chosen to coincide with the upcoming elections for student representatives of the University Council and faculty councils, which will take place at the end of April. Their contribution to faculty councils and to the University Council are of vital importance to the way the faculties and university are run and will hopefully result in higher-quality education and research. For more information on the elections see: http://www.eur.nl/eur/medezeggenschap/verkiezingen/eur_elections/
The Council can also be contacted through Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/UraadEUR/
On behalf of the Executive Board and University Council,
Kristel Baele Kees van Paridon
President of the Executive Board Chair of the University Council
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