It is not up to students to have a real voice in the running of the university. Or at least, that’s what the current student representatives in the university council seem to believe. Rather than being actual political representatives, they act like consumer organizations, or customer services. They legitimize their existence on the ground that students pay tuition for a diploma. In doing so, Lijst Calimero and SOG reduce students to mere consumers, causing the real issues to be left undiscussed.
By Remco van der Meer
First off, let us remark that it is commendable that well-intentioned students have taken the time to participate in the university council. Also, the current representatives should be lauded for their efforts and actions. However, the ‘real’ interest of students has been overlooked in the past. The student interest extends much further than the “extra power sockets” in the library, or “reducing the transaction costs when topping up your printing credit”. By only addressing minor issues such as these, an implicit consent is given to the broader vision of the University board. Real politics is about influencing the bigger picture. This is the political battle that students should be fighting.
The core values of a university
This is why The Democratic Academy Groningen takes part in the University Council elections, to kickstart this discussion. In contrast to the University Board and the other representative student parties, we want students to have a say in matters regarding the more fundamental issues within the university, rather than just about superficial practicalities. We want to discuss what a university really is, and what her role in society ought to be.
To do this we need to know what it means to be a student, or a scientist. Everyone wants “good education” and “better facilities”. However, whether something is an improvement depends on the yardstick we use to ‘measure’ success. Today’s yardsticks , intentionally or unintentionally, often are; yield, efficiency, the job market, or, excuse me, the ‘career transition’. These underlying principles and values determine what happens to a university in the long run. They are too important to be dictated by a small group of officials and managers.
DAG aims to make the implicit values, as they exist in the university policy, explicit. Anyone who proposes practical changes like “it should be made easier to write your dissertation in corporation with a company,” or “the RUG should stimulate guest-lectures from corporate speakers,” is simultaneously saying something about the core values of the university. In this case, for example, that academic education should be closely tied to the interests of companies and that education, first and foremost, is meant to prepare employees for the job market. This is not the time and place to attack those values, in this case those of Calimero, but let’s at least have the discussion on this fundamental level.
The real interest of students
Every policy realizes a vision, whether the policy makers know it or not. Their core values always will always be expressed by their actions, there is no such thing as being apolitical. Once this realisation sinks in, the statement “The SOG does not take sides politically” found in the SOG party program, sounds ridiculous. You can’t defend views if you have no clue of why you’re defending them. This addition to a party program makes no sense, since taking a political stance can never be avoided. In this case that stance is an implicit agreement with university managers their idea that the interest of students is limited to toilet breaks during exams. Students are allowed to discuss small practicalities, but crucial questions about the role of the university are apparently not worth a debate in university council meetings.
Because DAG wants to focus on fundamental values, you’ll never hear us say: we’re here for ‘the student’. Whoever pretends that ‘the student’ as such exists forces themselves to reduce student politics to the lowest common denominator. We’ll defend interests that are both more specific and broader than that. More specific, as we do not aim to represent ‘the student’ but to represent critical students who share our values. This is a minority, which hopefully, in due time, will turn into a majority. From a broader perspective, we do not only defend student interest, but also fight for the academic community as a whole, and as such, society in general.
Those unwilling to retake control of the fundamental values that shape university policy, leaves power in the hands of those currently wielding it. Instead, let’s make the values which underlie university policy explicit, as well as the way in which input from students and employees is handled by directive boards. In order to do so, we should not be tempted into superficial discussions , for example, regarding library chairs or the Nestor set-up. We should reconsider and reshape what a university is and should stand for. Once the right foundations are in place, the rest will follow.