Having a say on Yantai
That is according to a document from the RUG board of directors about codetermination in the branch campus plans to be discussed in the University Council this week.
The document emphasises that the board of directors of Dutch universities are not required by higher education law to consult co-determination bodies within their institutions about starting new academic programmes or branch facilities.
Right to consent
The document proposes what the role of codetermination bodies will be in the Yantai plans: the University Council will be asked if they ‘consent’ to accept broader plans to develop branch campuses into the RUG’s Strategic/Institutional Plan, but will only be ‘consulted’ on the specific decision to start a branch campus in China. On the faculty level, the relevant faculties – Mathematics & Natural Sciences, Economics & Business and, perhaps eventually, Arts – will be asked how they ‘feel’ about the Yantai plans.
Members of the councils are not satisfied with the top-down nature of the negotiations. Rob Jagt, presidium of the Faculty of Mathematics & Natural Sciences council student faction, says, ‘We are being listened to of course, but it’s unclear in which parts we have the right of consent. The current time frame is very ambitious and due to the limited information on the possible risk and how to cope with these, we are not able to advise the faculty board properly. It would be good to take more time for this discussion.’
Annabel van den Bosch of the Faculty of Economics & Business student faction in the council puts it more strongly: ‘Why do we have faculty councils and university councils if we can’t do anything? Are we not moving in the same direction as UvA in that case? There are two important points, and the council has the right to vote at only one of those points’, she says. ‘They don’t have a say when it’s about Yantai. They’re just being left out.‘
SOG’s chairperson Esmee Gemke acknowledges the difficulty of divorcing the matter of pursuing branch campuses in general from the specific Yantai branch plans. But providing more information could increase support for the plans. ‘What is important is that the lack of information is what is leading to the lack of support. The board of directors has to work hard on that. It’s also difficult for the members of the University Council to have a truly informed opinion because what the exact plans are remains unclear.’
Leon Sloots of Lijst Sterk says those matters have to be assessed separately and praises the board’s transparency: ‘They could have proposed incorporating a policy about branch campuses into the institutional plan without mentioning the details about Yantai and China, but they have already told us that this is the plan.’
On the other hand, Bernadette van der Blij of Lijst Calimero says that only consulting the faculties for their general feeling about the plans is insufficient. ‘Given the significant impact this will have on the faculties and studies, the right to consent seems more appropriate, even if it’s not actually written in the Dutch higher education laws’, she says.
‘That doesn’t exude much confidence’
As chairperson of the faculty of Economics and Business council, Kees van Veen says, ‘With regard to having a say, it is worrying that the board of directors is proposing to change the right to consent into an advisory right. That doesn’t exude much confidence, neither in the quality of their own Yantai plan nor in the judgment of the academic community.’
Aside from doubts about the decision-making process, Mathieu Paapst of the Science Faction in the University Council says he is personally against supporting cooperation with countries with poor human rights records. ‘I suggest that we should specify in the institutional plan that branch campuses ought to be pursued only in countries that respect human rights, for example those with a position in the top 100 countries in the World Press Freedom index. If that proposal is dismissed, then I would be obliged to vote against this change in the institutional plan.’
Members of the staff faction of the University Council are also alarmed. In a statement on the council document, staff faction member Jan Blaauw says, ‘If it turns out that ‘Yantai’ puts a lot of stress on the RUG organisation, then we do not want to just grant the power to move ahead with starting even more branches.’
In a separate statement, staff faction member Bart Beijer says that the working situation for RUG staff here would be made very different by pursuing the Yantai plans. ‘Making changes to what their tasks are and how instruction is given sounds a lot like reorganisation to us. That seems like sufficient reason to make the codetermination on the lower levels stronger in this process.’