Titus Stahl

Faculty and staff want reforms at Groningen University

At my university, there is now an initiative of faculty and staff, called “Rethink RUG”, that argues that the current culture must be reformed and who share goals with the recent protests in Amsterdam. The university newspaper reports (in Dutch) about an open letter in which more than 50 people complain about a culture of distrust towards the teachers and researchers, as evidenced by micromanagement, over-bureaucratization and a lack of democracy. The number of signatories has since risen to almost a hundred, most of them teaching staff.

From the open letter:

We too, as employees of The University of Groningen, have the feeling that the university veers increasingly away from a “community of scholars” with a stimulating work and study environment. Also in Groningen, the administrative culture prevails in which students are treated as clients who must be kept happy, or as products that must be delivered as quickly as possible. Also in Groningen, we feel the results of an ever-growing bureaucratic micro- management of educational activities. This creates a culture of distrust, in which one is not taken seriously as a teacher or creative professional, and on which we are increasingly required to waste time; this hinders the expertize and autonomy of our teaching and research. Also in Groningen, the work load has increased exponentially, among other things, because departments must constantly accommodate more and more students, and are therefore forced to undertake more teaching tasks (honors, minors, introduction days). Also in Groningen, uneven relations have developed between tenured and temporary staff, where the latter administer essential work without receiving the assurances for improved career perspectives. Also in Groningen, academic staff must compete in the rat-race to acquire research money, while the chances of acquiring such research grants are ridiculously small. Adding to this, the performance of researchers is measured solely in the number of publications in so-called ‘high impact’ journals. The fundamentals of good science – diversity of output and carefully executed long-term research – which is perhaps less ‘sexy’ is no longer valued. Such challenging research is even penalized for not cohering to the status quo (with negative rankings). Research themes, e.g. what is deemed ‘relevant’, is codified in marketing slogans. These meaningless platitudes become important indicators for financers.