The year of the COCK, bathrooms and lots of stress

Gender neutral peeing. The bicycle mess. Work pressure and stress. Housing. Yantai. The Universiteitskrant looks back on the most high-profile subjects and stories of 2017.
By Rob Siebelink

Internationals and housing

The RUG is growing, even faster than in 2016. This summer, the number of students surpassed the 30,000 mark for the first time. Among them are more and more international students. There are currently approximately five thousand students from 120 different countries in Groningen, and five hundred more join them every year.

All those people need a place to live. And this is a problem. Especially at the start of the academic year, this lead to harrowing stories of hostels filled to the brim, ridiculously high rental prices, foreign students who were forced to sleep at camp sites or in their cars, at the train station or, if they were lucky with friends; this year marked the first appearance of the homeless international student.

Some of them left again after a week of unsuccessfully looking for a place to live. Such as Alexander Bakos from Romania. He had registered to study law, but never got started. ‘I went back home because of the housing shortage,’ he told the UK in September.

Finnish-Vietnamese Nora Gurung had only just started her pre-master clinical psychology. She had to stay at the Simplon Jongerenhotel because she was unable to find a room. ‘I’m sort of stuck in survival mode’, a desperate Nora told the UK. ‘I’ve seen so many students cry because they don’t know what to do. I’m beginning to lose hope.’

On September 8, a protest on the steps of the Academy building was organised. In the meantime, the RUG was blaming the city, while the city held the RUG responsible. The municipal council debated the issue and the minister of education was asked Parliamentary questions.

Temporary student housing was set up at the Van Swietenlaan. The RUG and the municipality once again promised to do better.

Read the magazine piece ‘A never-ending story’ here.

The Vindicat uproar

No year is complete without an uproar about Vindicat atque Polit. In early September, approximately two hundred members misbehaved during a visit to Sushi Mall at the Sontplein. Staff and neighbours were harassed, things were destroyed, the members made noise, and pissed in the street.

The incident led to the RUG and the Hanze University of Applied Sciences deciding to suspend the Vindicat committee grants (approximately 33,000 euros) for the rest of the year. At the end of the academic year it will be decided whether the current board members, will be eligible for the committee grants again.

Groningen mayor Peter den Oudsten also ordered a police investigation. This concluded that while the dinner at Sushi Mall had got severely out of hand, no punishable offences had been committed (or if they had, they couldn’t be proven).

But Wouter B., the ex-Vindicat member, did suffer criminal consequences. The Groningen courts convicted B. in late November for the aggravated assault of an aspiring member during the initiation period in 2016. B. was sentenced to a 240-hour community service, 31 days in jail (with thirty of those being probationary), and a 5,000 euro compensation for his victim.

The case against B. also showed the world an intriguing look behind the Vindicat scenes. During the initiation period, B. was president of the Commissie Overdracht Corpskennis, or COCK for short. During the court session, B. admitted that he had stood on the victim’s head. He didn’t intend to harm him, he explained, but to ‘intimidate him’.

B. certainly knew that some things weren’t okay. But, he said: ‘I think there are quite a few things at Vindicat that aren’t allowed that no one cares about. We just did what the COCK had been doing for years.’

And then there was rowing association Aegir. They were screwed when their club magazine had a ‘slut of the year’ contest in 2017. Aegir, too, was punished: the club was not welcome during the opening of the academic year, and the board even suspended two members.

And yet Vindicat is doing just fine. In spite of the uproar, the criticism, and the negative press, the association had a record number of new members this year.

Read the background story on the Wouter B.’s hearing ‘Always refined

Stress

‘Stop telling us we always have to be the best. Stop telling us we’re all competing for the same PhD. spot. Stop telling us that we don’t deserve to be here whenever we don’t know something.’

This was the outcry from a student participating in the Groningen Student Union’s study into the stress among students. The union’s study showed that two out of three students experience stress often or even very often.

This stress is not just caused by their studies. It’s also due to their extracurricular activities. They are on committees, student associations, and board. But they don’t participate in these activities because they’re so much fun. They want to increase their chances of finding a job, pad their CV, or develop themselves. Or they just need the money.

It’s mainly study pressure, student Charlotte de Haas told the UK. ‘It’s ultimately a combination of things, though. You also want to work, have a social life. And everything has to be perfect.’ Fellow student Doko: ‘You have to set yourself apart from the others. A degree alone is no longer enough to get a job.’

Student coach Niels Bakker also blames study pressure, which the bsa has only increased. ‘The loans system means people have to graduate faster. Social media also plays a role: all those success stories from other people. It’s a bad time to be a student.’

Read the piece ‘Stressed out students’ here

Yantai

Is the RUG going or not? 2017 was supposed to be Yantai’s year, but no decision has been made.

It looked promising at the start, though. The Lower House approved the legislative change that makes the campus in China possible, the RUG had discussion meeting, a large university delegation visited Yantai in May, and the final decision was supposed to be made right after the summer.

But this never happened. At the last moment, a majority in the University Council (the Personnel faction and student party Lijst Calimero) announced that they would not agree to the plan as it existed in August. Too many uncertainties, too many risks. ‘There are currently no questions that can be satisfactorily answered so as to change our minds’, the parties declared, closing the door on the issue.

The irritated board of directors (president Poppema: ‘You’re supposed to make decisions after a discussion, not before. We need to have a talk about how we do things around here’) had to go back to the drawing board. No voting took place in November and December, either. The actual vote probably won’t take place until February 2018.

Over the past few months, the RUG has also suffered from the development in China, especially where the much-discussed topic of academic freedom was concerned. In the fall, it was announced that Cambridge University Press had blocked access to hundreds of documents in China, at the request of Beijing (although it lifted the blockade after the storm of criticism it received). In November, it was announced that the board of the University of Groningen Yantai would have a party secretary from the Communist Party after all.

Read the UK’s report on China ‘Yantai, a ticket for the future?’ here

Other news

DAG on the council

Student faction DAG made a surprising entrance into the University Council during the elections in May. ‘The university has become a business, its rector a top manager with a matching salary, and scientists have become research machines and students have been reduced to consumers’, DAG wrote in its electoral platform.
The party (or movement, as they prefer to call themselves) got two seats on the council. With that, DAG stole a seat from the Student Organisation Groningen, while Lijst Calimero retained its five seats. Lijst Sterk left the University Council.

The voter turnout for the elections were abysmal, by the way: less than thirty percent of students took the trouble of filling out a ballot. This number has been similar in previous years.

Read the interview with DAG’s Jasper Been ‘We promise…’ here

Werkpressure is too high

Almost eighty percent of academic staff feels that the work pressure at universities is too high, a study done by union FNV showed in January of this year.

Lack of personnel, an increase in student numbers, the pressure to publish, and unrealistic working hours have raised the pressure to intolerably high level, the union said, based on a survey among 2,500 university employees. More than half of all employees suffer from either physical or mental ailments.

This month, a great majority of the University Council said that the RUG will have to do something about the work pressure and the lack of balance between the number of students and staff in 2018. The multi-annual budget 2018-2022 allocates very few funds to solving those problems, and quite a few to large and central products, the council said.

Read the University Council’s report about work pressure at the RUG ‘U-raad: nu actie tegen werkdruk’ here (in Dutch)

Gender neutral

The Energy Academy’s new building at Zernike is beautiful. But some people were bothered by the misogynistic stickers in the bathrooms: the woman was smaller than the man. In June, a protest on the UK’s Facebook page got people talking.

The writers wanted the sticker to be replaced with one that was just as big as the man, while others thought they were nuts.

Nevertheless, this sort of led to a breakthrough elsewhere. At the Faculty of Philosophy, gender neutral peeing has been a thing since November. The gendered signs were removed from several bathrooms.

Read the story ‘What were they thinking’ here

Bicycle mess

Groningen has 200,000 inhabitants and 300,000 bicycles. This obviously leads to chaotic and unsafe traffic situations. The city has tried to fix several intersections, including the bicycle crossing at the Eikenlaan/Wilgenpad, part of the Zernike route.

Unfortunately, their experiment failed. The priority situation was changed to benefit crossing cyclists, but it didn’t improve matters. On the contrary. The decision was reversed several weeks later. Another solution has not yet been found, although the city is working on it.

Read the magazine piece ‘Survival of the fietsest’, about the bicycle mess in Groningen, here

Nederlands

20 December 2017