Why the rise of DAG Arts is necessary

The Democratische Academie Groningen (DAG) has decided to participate in the upcoming elections for the Faculty of Arts council. Under de title of DAG, DAG Arts wants to participate in the fundamental discussion about the university not only at university level but at faculty level as well.

Why Arts?

The Faculty of Arts currently finds itself in a rough financial climate. Mid-January, UG historian Eelco Runia rang the alarm bells in an article he wrote in the Dutch national newspaper NRC: “The university will be ruined by efficiency-thinking.” This efficiency-thinking results in an increased workload, internationalization as a profit-model, and the deprofessionalization of staff. For Runia, these were the reasons to leave the university. In an employee satisfaction survey at the UG, staff at the Faculty of Arts gave the work-life private-life ratio a score of 5.5 out of 10; the lowest score within all faculties. This number is a reflection of the dissatisfaction amongst teachers, in part due to the already for years decreasing FTE-reimbursement, the high pressure and workload which according to the University Board are merely “personal perceptions”.  This putting off of serious complaints leads to only more frustration amongst staff members.

As a result of Runia’s article published in NRC and the feeble response from the Faculty Board, indignant students from the entire faculty decided to hold a sit-in on the 26th of January, 2018, in the boardroom of the Faculty Board. During the discussion with a number of Faculty Board members, it became evident that the current university finance model is not just ill-functioning, but often not functioning at all. The government provides universities with a certain amount of money per awarded diploma, a policy which serves as a perverse incentive to attract as many students as possible and to make them graduate as fast as possible. This is in part recognized by the Faculty Board, but in public the Board does not actively distance itself from this policy either: the Faculty Board, too, finds itself in an employer/employee relationship and suffers from the top-down management structure which starts at the Board of the University and the government and silts through to all levels of the organizational structure.

The necessity to navigate as many students as possible through the study programs has led to “schoolification” and a loss of educational quality. This “schoolification,” amongst other things caused by the introduction of 5 ECTS courses and the increase in the frequency of examinations, have simplified university education, resulting in an increasingly smaller space for critical reflection. Besides this, it is being made more complicated to take courses outside of your own curriculum. The new minor system, of which the “career minor” is perhaps the most eye-catching, exemplifies how substantive programs attenuate and are tuned to the labour market.

This process started to come into effect a number of years ago. Study programs which according to the logic of efficiency-thinking yielded to little, such as independent language study programs, have either been cut back and have disappeared completely, or have become integrated into broader bachelor programs. The introduction of so-called clustering will make it even easier to abolish non-profitable study tracks and programs in the future. Furthermore, clustering does not mean a complete decentralization of responsibilities and competencies, in which both students and staff should have more of a say, but creates an extra bureaucratic layer which has strengthened the current efficiency and profit focused policy at the lower management levels. https://democratischeacademie.com/clustering/

Slowly but surely, the Faculty of Arts is becoming more uniform on all levels, whilst it is precisely the diversity of opinions, thoughts, and perspectives that is crucial for the humanities.

Objectives

  1. Better funding for the Faculty of Arts

Due to financial concerns, the Faculty Board has felt compelled in recent years to reorganize various times in the past few years, forcing itself into the straitjacket of the Board of the University. In fact, the faculty should have conveyed a stronger message to both the Board of the University and the government: ‘This can’t go on!’.

Meanwhile, dean Gerry Wakker and associates seem to have been woken up. In the Faculty Council, DAG, in collaboration with the Faculty Board and the other parties, intends to increase the pressure to obtain more financial resources and to oppose the profitability philosophy and efficiency thinking. At the same time, DAG wants to ensure within the Faculty Council that the Faculty Board explicitly speaks out against the current financing model and is more open about its motives for specific policy choices.

       2. Proper internationalization

The international student population is currently primarily treated as a source of revenue rather than as the embodiment of an essential enrichment of the academic agenda of the Faculty of arts. It is precisely at the Faculty of Arts, where diversity of perspectives is an important ingredient for good discussion, a sustainable and pluralistic form of internationalization is vital.

On 16 March 2018, our workgroup ‘democratization and internationalization’ organized a public event where both  students and staff members shared their visions on internationalization. We want an open and inclusive academic community, in which international staff and students are regarded as full-fledged members, rather than as vehicles for profit. At the same time, attention should be paid to the issue of over-the-top anglicization: within an international university, there should be equal space for other languages too, such as Dutch, German, Spanish and French.

       3. Greater transparency on the part of the Faculty Board

In the wake of the sit-in organised by DAG on 26 January, the Faculty Board promised greater transparency. Students and staff have now been given the opportunity to subscribe to a newsletter, but agendas, minutes and documents are still difficult or impossible to find. In the case of documents, they are simply not published in advance. The commitment to publish information on Nestor, as promised by the Faculty Board in response to the sit-in, have not been fulfilled either.

For these reasons, it is important to demand more openness. The Faculty Board and the Council should communicate more actively and more openly about what is going on and what is being decided. It must also be announced when Faculty Council meetings will be held and that they will be open to the public. In addition, the actual discussion must take place again in the council meetings rather than in back rooms in advance, as is often the case at present.

        4. Less massification and generalisation

DAG Arts will fight for a revaluation of specialist knowledge and small disciplines. We must move away from the efficiency philosophy, which determines the social value of a course of study on the basis of the number of diplomas awarded. Teachers must be able to provide education that originates from their own research area, such as the core subjects at the history program.

        5. Collaboration with staff

The staff of the Faculty of Arts experience an unprecedented workload due to bureaucratization and accountability requirements. In the employee satisfaction survey, staff gave the work-life balance a score of 5.5 out of 10. The Personnel Faction regularly raises this issue in the Faculty Council, but often feels insufficiently supported by students. We want to work together closely with the staff group. Not only would a lower workload for them ultimately lead to a better working atmosphere and fewer personal problems, but students will also see this reflected in the enjoyment of the teachers and an increase in the quality of education.

         6. Elected dean

DAG Arts would like to elect the successor to dean Gerry Wakker. In this way, the dean is not only accountable to the Board of the University but above all to the faculty community. In addition, a dean may feel supported in the execution of plans through a democratic election, as it provides a mandate. An elected dean is not appointed by the Executive Board, which means that he or she can take a more independent course. This will provide the faculty with a greater opportunity to express its opinion and to oppose the policy of the Executive Board if this is to the detriment of the faculty.

As a result, an elected dean does not serve the interests of the employer, as is currently the case, but those of the faculty community. In this way, an elected dean contributes to the autonomy of a faculty and to decentralization.

         7. Discussions on a more fundamental level

Discussions in the Faculty Council must be conducted at a more fundamental level. At present, the Council deals with too many practical matters, while the ideology underlying policy choices is not exposed, let alone questioned.

DAG Arts wants to put fundamental issues on the agenda and ask more critical questions about decisions than the current Council factions do. To move forward, a break with traditions and the politics of faits accomplis is needed. In addition, we want to better explain the fundamental assumptions underlying the issues that are dealt with.

Conclusion

In the long term, it would be possible for DAG to choose to enter into the council of other faculties as well. At present, as the RUG employee survey has shown, the situation at the Faculty of Arts is the most urgent. This requires immediate attention.

As with the University Council, we are aware as DAG Arts that no change can be achieved at a fundamental level within the Faculty Council. The only way to increase transparency and increase the pressure is to be critical and to allow managers to make their voices heard. A radical democratization and decentralization of the university is desirable in order to give the faculty community real powers. DAG Arts will also provide the opportunity to think about the future of our faculty in a working group with staff and students.

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