The best time of my life

Foto Reyer Boxem

The best time of my life

By Niall Torris
11 February om 9:55 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 11 February 2020
om 10:02 uur.
February 11 at 9:55 AM.
Last modified on February 11, 2020
at 10:02 AM.

I think I must be doing something wrong, or maybe someone has been lying to me. According to a lot of people university is supposed to be the best years of my life. Now call me crazy, but exams every six or seven weeks, numerous articles to read and enough essays to publish my own (shoddy) journal just don’t seem like good material for a lifetime highlight reel.

Now, I’m no stranger to a few beers and I’ve definitely been spotted leaving Warhol well after sunrise a few times. But there’s always a lecture or some assessment to leave me with a pain in my head and a whole pile of lost hours from my life instead of a night out. What’s worse is that when it comes to college work even a few cans of Guinness and a big breakfast won’t solve the problem (and believe me, I’ve tried).

In psychology we have the ‘positivity effect’. In a nutshell it says that older people tend to remember more positive information associated with memories. So, on average, the further we get from the time a memory is made, the more we focus on the positive elements of it. Which explains why my dad thinks coming to RUG to sit in the library all week typing, reading and figuring out a scientific calculator is actually a laugh riot.

What’s worse is that when it comes to college work even a few cans of Guinness and a big breakfast won’t solve the problem

It’s probably important to mention that the same research shows that younger people tend to focus more on negative information when using memory. I know that seems like a really important piece of information, but it’s really not.

I fail to see what positive information I’m supposed to focus on about trying (and failing) to study yet another statistical method. All any of that has taught me is how to calculate the probability of me passing the module. Trust me, the outlook is not good.

But I’ll spare a thought for my future self. Maybe one day I’ll be telling my own kids and their friends that college is going to be the best years of their life. But then I’ll remember this piece and ruin it for them all… or maybe I’ll look back and see look how well I did despite all the negativity… or I’ll just remember how much I enjoy writing.

Who knows? For now, all I can say is it looks pretty negative to me. Give it time.

Student victimised by new exam schedule

Op-ed: Student victimised by new exam schedule

The RUG has decided to stick to the new exam times for the next several years. Law student Jaap Scholtens argues this decision is incomprehensible.
By Jaap Scholtens
10 February om 13:38 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 11 February 2020
om 9:45 uur.
February 10 at 13:38 PM.
Last modified on February 11, 2020
at 9:45 AM.

The office of the university, aided by various parties, has written a perfectly fine evaluation report on the implementation of the new exam schedule. The university will be administering four exams a day instead of three.

This new schedule solves the capacity dilemma for the exam periods this year. The argument that it’s needed because of a lack of capacity becomes void when, next year, the number of seats in the Aletta Jacobs hall increases from 1,200 to 1,792. That would solve the issue of capacity for the next few years.

Focus

The new exam times will have mainly negative effects. First of all, the exams start earlier and last longer. This is detrimental to the students’ focus. It also makes them feel unsafe when exams end late at night, especially when the streetlights around the hall aren’t working, like they did last exam period.

The main problem is when one exam ends and the next one starts. Students who are finishing up, especially students who need extra time, are negatively affected by the students who are waiting outside in the hall for their exam.

These students make noise. Even more annoying are the examiners who are already setting up for the next exam, while students with extra time are still working on theirs.

Noise

Because there is less time between exams, examiners, especially those who oversee large written exams, have much less time to prepare their exams on site. Students who need extra time to finish don’t get much out of this time due to other students leaving, the noise coming through whenever someone opens the door, and stressed-out examiners working on the next exam.

The report also doesn’t focus on safety issues. Because of the shorter times between exams, there are many more people in the hall than is allowed. The stairs are crowded, there’s no room to move around, and the lines in front of the ladies’ room are impossible.

This is not just annoying, but a safety risk as well. A crowd like this would be trapped in case of an incident or fire. The air quality is also affected by the large number of people. The air treatment system in the Aletta Jacobs hall can’t keep up, which leads to higher temperatures and bad air quality. This can especially lead to problems during the summer, which I don’t think would help with people’s focus.

Reconsider

The argument that it would be too difficult to switch back to the old schedule after the summer and that it would therefore be best to stick with this new one for the next few years is nonsense. The new schedule might be a necessary evil this year, but since there will be no capacity issues over the next few years, sticking to it victimises an entire generation of students.

Dear board of directors, for the sake of the students and the examiners, reconsider this decision. If not for them, at least do it for the numbers, statistics, evaluations, and reviews that universities hold in such high esteem these days. It’s inevitable that this new schedule will lead to worse results.

Jaap Scholtens is a student of law and history

Library incident

Photo Reyer Boxem

Library incident

By Niall Torris
29 January om 9:37 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 30 January 2020
om 9:31 uur.
January 29 at 9:37 AM.
Last modified on January 30, 2020
at 9:31 AM.

I’ve had something on my mind for a few months now. During the exam period for Block 1a I was heading into the library to study stats, not that it did me much good, but that’s what repeats are for, right? What’s really stuck with me from that day was what happened as I walked across to the library after parking my bike outside the academie building.

As I crossed, there was a loud crash. I looked up to see a young Dutch student in a suit and red tie pulling himself up off the ground from underneath a green bike. The crash came from an unsecured beer crate flying off the back and smashing into the pavement. I hurried over and he was already standing when I reached him.

He was clearly very drunk, so he needed a second to switch to English. I checked that he was alright and put the rusty chain back on his bike. I advised him to push his bike and carry the remains of his crate. It took a few attempts to get through, but eventually he got the message. Then as I walked away, he said “thanks buddy you’ve completely changed my opinion about international students”.

The crash came from an unsecured beer crate flying off the back and smashing into the pavement

It seemed nice at first but that comment stuck and it’s raised some questions for me. What exactly was his opinion about international students before I helped him? How easily is he swayed to judge huge groups of people simply on the actions of one individual? Is this attitude common among Dutch students?

Understandably, when I tell my friends this it quickly becomes a conversation about racism and maybe they’re right to call it that. But as a white Irishman who has lived in Ireland most of my life, this really isn’t anything I have much personal experience with. Sure, some people have been racist to friends and I’ve dealt with someone close to me being racist before too. But I’ve never been on the receiving end.

Maybe I’m taking this all a little too seriously… maybe he just misspoke? It’s easily done and after all, there was a strong scent of beer smell off the lad. The whole scene smelled like a pub back home in Ireland roughly five minutes before everyone erupts into songs about alcohol and/or freeing Ireland from the British Empire and I wouldn’t call that racist. So maybe I just took him up wrong…

But what if I didn’t…

Exams

Photo: Reyer Boxem

Exams

By Niall Torris
14 January om 13:02 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 15 January 2020
om 8:21 uur.
January 14 at 13:02 PM.
Last modified on January 15, 2020
at 8:21 AM.

The Christmas season is most definitely over and I must have ended up on Santa’s naughty list again this year. He’s ignored my letter and all he brought me was a big bag full of exams.

It’s a clever move by the man in the red suit, coal might have kept me warm over a cold winter, but exams are guaranteed to leave me shivering with anxiety.

I remember during the final exams for my undergrad in 2014 I managed to lose my breakfast on the walk between the flat and the exam hall every morning. It’s a remarkable achievement if you consider the fact that I’d already eaten it before I left. These days I only panic when I’m inside the exam hall, which is a slight improvement all things considered. I usually manage to keep my meals down too.

During my undergrad exams were only once a year and all I can really remember is the panic. In final year a group of us stayed together in a friend’s apartment for the two weeks of exams. It’s true that misery loves company, so we decided to stick together instead of being miserable alone.

Now when I’m sitting in an exam and turn the page, I feel that wave of anxiety washing over me

We’d stay up for hours compressing notes and trying to force them into our heads before an exam. Then we’d wake up and go to face the music together. I got through that, but I knew I had to learn to cope better.

Now when I’m sitting in an exam and turn the page, I feel that wave of anxiety washing over me and I take a second. It feels like drowning and all I want to do is freak out, but I take a moment to calm myself. I try to breathe, remember my studies and not get overwhelmed.

I realise that makes me sound more like a traumatised soldier back from war than a student at a desk in Zernike. But before you call me over-dramatic, I’m pretty sure a statistics exam I took in 2016 gave me PTSD.

In general, things were tougher by 2016, by then I had two exam sessions a year which really piled on the pressure. You can imagine my joy when I found out that the RUG holds four exam seasons a year… Another gift, now I panic about my future four times a year instead of just once!

I really must get myself off that list…

Another fraud case at the RUG

Employees funnelled 1.2 million euros

Another fraud case at the RUG

Three employees of the RUG Faculty of Arts have been fired or given a ‘serious warning’. They funnelled 1.2 euros in public money to their own foundation NOHA.
14 January om 11:11 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 21 January 2020
om 13:05 uur.
January 14 at 11:11 AM.
Last modified on January 21, 2020
at 13:05 PM.

Rob Siebelink

Door Rob Siebelink

14 January om 11:11 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 21 January 2020
om 13:05 uur.
Rob Siebelink

By Rob Siebelink

January 14 at 11:11 AM.
Last modified on January 21, 2020
at 13:05 PM.

By establishing the NOHA Groningen foundation, the RUG says the trio ‘created a means to acquire subsidies and public funds outside of the RUG’. NOHA stands for Network on Humanitarian Action, an international master programme for students who want to help out in crisis regions.

Using RUG stationery and stamps, the trio set up contracts with external partners, using the foundations bank account number, the university reported on Monday evening.

Large numbers

This allowed one of the employees to declare large numbers of expenses and pay himself, other staff members, and external partners without any oversight, an investigation the RUG commissioned last year found.

The university says the ‘concluded facts are serious’ and has made a police report of fraud and falsification of documents. The foundation’s bank account has also been seized. The RUG has also started a civil procedure against the NOHA Groningen foundation and one of the employees involved.

Questioning

After a European partner tipped them off, the RUG started questioning how the NOHA programme was being financed. They suspected that public funds (subsidies and tuition fees paid by students) that were meant for the RUG didn’t actually end up with the university directly, but rather at the foundation.

It turned out that the foundation was set up by the three arts employees without the university knowing about it. The NOHA Groningen foundation has the same business address as the faculty. The employees involved had been (partially) relieved of their jobs pending the investigation.

Trust broken

RUG president Jouke de Vries is shocked by the investigation’s findings. ‘They broke the trust of the students, the partner universities, and the European Committee with their actions’, says De Vries.

He points out that the RUG has ‘dealt with incidents like these before’. ‘We’ll use that case history to make it clear at the university that we don’t want this. We have clear rules on integrity, and it’s important that the staff stick to those.’

Three years ago, a large fraud case rocked the RUG; the then manager of the RUG’s technical department turned out to have stolen 1.1 million euros from the university. The manager received a three-year sentence, with six months’ probation.

‘Hinting at resignation is particularly disrespectful’

Op-ed

‘Hinting at resignation is particularly disrespectful’

Scholarship PhDs think that the RUG ignores their objections too easily, they write in a letter to the university council. ‘Hinting at resignation is particularly disrespectful.’
By Martha E. Buit
19 December om 12:51 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 19 December 2019
om 19:43 uur.
December 19 at 12:51 PM.
Last modified on December 19, 2019
at 19:43 PM.

With high interest, we (the initiators of the manifesto) followed the university council meeting concerning the future of the PhD Scholarship experiment. This is our brief response to the meeting.

In short: we are disappointed. The suggested improvements do nothing to enhance the legal certainty and equality of current PhD students who have to deal with the detriments of the experiment.

It has boiled down to the (also necessary) improvement of the provision of information, as to which the University is only able to give a more concrete implementation around March 2020. By this time, the second round of the experiment will already be submitted.

Furthermore, it became clear how little the university takes our problems seriously. Arguments concerning our equality are portrayed as greed. Rector Magnificus Cisca Wijmenga even stated that we should not complain concerning our salary because bus drivers need to support their families with such amounts.

With the utmost respect concerning the profession of a bus driver, this comparison is irrelevant. However, this example does point out the university’s mentality towards us.

First, the university does not acknowledge the fact that many PhD candidates have families to support as well and are struggling to support them on only the PhD student pay. Second, the university does not (want to) understand that we want equal pay for equal work. As Cisca Wijmenga stated: go to the private sector if you want to earn big money.

PhD students made a clear choice to give up these ‘big salaries’ to work for their dream and in that aspect have declared loyalty to the university. The insinuation that we should quit our job if we do not accept the current conditions of the experiment – how detrimental they may be – is particularly disrespectful for our position.

The reality of the experiment is that PhD students feel this inequality on a daily basis, which makes many PhD students restless, required to work second jobs or even have burnouts. All affect (the quality of) the dissertations, let alone our personal lives.

Again, the ‘benefits’ of the experiment and the current implementation of our PhD positions do not outweigh the detriments and need to be addressed next to the information provision. Therefore, we urge the university council to maintain criticism for this as well as the fact that there most definitely is a hierarchy to our position and saying ‘no’ is met with resistance from all sides.

In conclusion, we do not accept the current conditions PhD students are in, nor the conditions of the second round of the experiment. Therefore, we will keep fighting for the termination of the experiment, equality and compensation as stated in the manifesto.

To anyone who is willing to fight for us, we would like to say thank you on behalf of the 220 PhD students who have signed the manifesto so far.

Martha E. Buit, representative of the initiatiors of the manifesto

Two-tier system

Two-tier system

By Niall Torris
17 December om 14:37 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 17 December 2019
om 15:00 uur.
December 17 at 14:37 PM.
Last modified on December 17, 2019
at 15:00 PM.

This week I was stunned to read that the RUG board applied for 650 more scholarship PhD positions, and all while demonstrating an understanding of consent that would be seriously disturbing in the bedroom (‘you said yes last time, so it’s happening’ is never a good argument).

This decision defies belief, especially with scholarship PhD candidates demanding an end to the experiment which created the relationship. Board president De Vries even claimed, ‘the RUG’s future is at stake’. Are the board blind to the damage this experiment causes?

At the recent council, rector magnificus Cisca Wijmenga said ‘if a salary is that important to them, they can go get a job in business’ and last year Lou De Leij, Director of Graduate Schools, said ‘if they don’t like it, there’s the door’.

Yet a scholarship pays 1800 euros per month while an employed PhD receives about 2300 euros. Honestly, just giving scholarship PhDs the proper salary for the job they already do is clearly a more sensible strategy than pushing them toward the door for asking. What does the board think they should like about that?

That 500 euros a month says to scholarship PhDs that they are bottom in a two-tier system. But the RUG defends the system, saying scholarship PhDs enjoy more freedom than their employed colleagues. Really? I fail to see how reduced pay, less holidays, the same workload, and the same requirements for graduation translate to greater freedom. So, why is the RUG doing this?

In Ireland, a scholarship-only system has existed for years and conditions for PhD candidates have rotted away

The answer is simple: scholarships are cheaper. The RUG openly says that scholarships allow the university to offer more PhD places. This little bit of spin lets the RUG board pretend that they’re a defender of justice and equal access to education, while eroding the rights and incomes of PhD candidates.

Eventually the two-tier system will vanish with everyone forced to the bottom; I know this from experience. For two years I represented PhD candidates as Graduate Officer for University College Dublin Students’ Union. The PhDs I helped came to me with supervisor issues, departmental conflict and many other problems. Without fail, their scholarships always placed them in an awful position.

In Ireland, a scholarship-only system has existed for years and conditions for PhD candidates have rotted away. I could do almost nothing to help many PhD candidates who sat in my office crying when they were refused sick pay, maternity leave or even a non-university job under the terms of their scholarships.

Sure, scholarship systems are normal in many countries. But that does nothing to justify the horrors of scholarship systems. The RUG needs to hold on to the things that sets it apart as better than the rest, and the PhD system here has been a perfect example of that, until now. De Vries is right when he says that the RUG’s future is at stake here, but not as he thinks it is. This fight must be won.

More female professors, RUG mediocre

More female professors, RUG mediocre

At almost all Dutch universities, the number of female professors went up last year, to 23.1 percent. The RUG also had more female professors in 2018 than the year before, although its score across the board was mediocre.
16 December om 15:42 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 16 December 2019
om 15:42 uur.
December 16 at 15:42 PM.
Last modified on December 16, 2019
at 15:42 PM.

Rob Siebelink

Door Rob Siebelink

16 December om 15:42 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 16 December 2019
om 15:42 uur.
Rob Siebelink

By Rob Siebelink

December 16 at 15:42 PM.
Last modified on December 16, 2019
at 15:42 PM.

So says the Monitor Women Professors 2019, published by the Dutch network of Women Professors (LNVH). Last year’s increase was the largest ever in the Netherlands: an average of 2.2 percentage points.

Men are still overrepresented in the highest echelons of science, though, and the Netherlands are in 24th place out of the twenty-eight EU countries, the network says. The LNVH calculated that equality won’t be reached until 2042.

A total of 3,350 professors have a position at Dutch universities. Of those, 2,605 are male and 745 are female. At the end of 2018, 125 professors were added, ninety-four of whom were female, thirty-one male.

Yardstick

In 2017, the RUG’s percentage of female professors was 19.6. In 2018, this increased to 21.7 percent, a 2.1 percentage point rise. That’s less than the average Dutch increase, which the LNVH says is an important yardstick: even traditional ‘male strongholds’ like the technical universities in Eindhoven and Twente are doing better than the Groningen university.

The RUG wants a quarter of all professors to be female in 2020, but whether the university will succeed remains to be seen. Of the fourteen Dutch universities, the RUG is only in eighth place, together with the University of Tilburg.

The Open University had the best score in the monitor: its percentage of female professors increased from 30.1 percent to 34.7 percent. Interestingly enough, the Erasmus University in Rotterdam is at the complete bottom (from 13.5 percent in 2017 to 14.5 in 2018), below even the technical universities.

Overfishing

The monitor also showed that the number of female associate professors has actually decreased. It’s possible that this is a direct result of the increase in the percentage of female professors, the LNVH suspects.

‘We should pay attention to the overfishing in the pool of female associate professors’, the network says, calling on universities to not just focus on the percentage of female professors, but to remain aware of promoting people from assistant professor to associate professor. The LNVH also says that women still make less money than most of their male counterparts.

Rector: ‘Scholarship PhDs aren’t paid the equivalent of a tip’

Council has terse discussion

Rector: ‘Scholarship PhDs aren’t paid the equivalent of a tip’

The RUG has definitively decided to apply for 650 new scholarship PhD positions. While the university council supported the board of directors’ plans this past Thursday, it did so reluctantly.
16 December om 13:45 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 17 December 2019
om 14:39 uur.
December 16 at 13:45 PM.
Last modified on December 17, 2019
at 14:39 PM.

Rob Siebelink

Door Rob Siebelink

16 December om 13:45 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 17 December 2019
om 14:39 uur.
Rob Siebelink

By Rob Siebelink

December 16 at 13:45 PM.
Last modified on December 17, 2019
at 14:39 PM.

The council has its doubts about the application itself, as well as the board’s conduct. In 2015, when the board applied for 850 positions, it supposedly promised the council the right to consent to a second round. But the current board says they do not remember this promise, nor do they feel consent is necessary.

This led to a terse discussion, with the board using some grandiose language: ‘If you don’t believe me, that’s a whole other problem’, said rector magnificus Cisca Wijmenga, while board president Jouke de Vries came out with: ‘The RUG’s future is at stake here’.

Unfair

Apart from the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, which has only requested a few positions, the RUG is the only university participating in the scholarship PhD experiment. The experiment creates more PhD position at the university, and the student PhDs have more freedom to write their own research proposal and gain teaching experience.

But the scholarship PhDs have started to resent their situation. The promised advantages have not materialised, they say. They also do the same work as employed PhDs, yet are paid a scholarship that’s 500 euros less than the salary their counterparts receive, don’t amass a pension, and get no vacation pay.

Manifesto

Last week, the scholarship PhDs published a manifesto in which they demand the same rights as ‘ordinary’ PhDs. This manifesto has since been signed hundreds of times. Fellow scholarship PhDs at the UMCG said on Wednesday that they want to sue if they’re not compensated for their work.

Many in the university council sympathise with the student PhDs protests. If there’s a real difference in positions, a difference in pay is warranted, said Lorenzo Squintani with the science faction. ‘But there hardly is a difference, which doesn’t justify the difference in pay.’

Simon van der Pol with the personnel faction thinks that the experiment does have its merits. ‘But there’s a huge difference between scholarship PhDs and employed PhDs. Not everyone realised when they signed at the dotted line.’

Improvement

Cisca Wijmenga acknowledged that improvements are needed, especially when it comes to how the scholarship PhDs receive information, as well as their supervisors. ‘What can or can’t they ask? That’s not always clear.’ Scholarship PhDs are eligible for travel allowance. ‘But they don’t know that.’

After an adjournment, the university council conceded as Wijmenga promised a plan to improve the scholarship PhDs’ position. This plan will be presented to the council in the spring.

Not a tip

But the PhDs will not receive equal money to their employed counterparts, said Wijmenga and De Vries. ‘People do have the option to decline. If a salary is that important to them, they can go get a job in business.’

Wijmenga also said that 1,800 euros is a good number, and not equivalent to a tip. ‘A bus driver makes that same money and they have to support a family. Let’s put it in the proper context. These people are getting an education, they have the freedom to go to conferences. It’s not like they’re pinching pennies.’

Prestigious ERC grants for Groningen scientists

Prestigious ERC grants for Groningen scientists

Two RUG researchers have been awarded ERC Consolidator Grants: molecular biologist Geert van den Bogaart en chemist Marleen Kamperman.
11 December om 9:41 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 11 December 2019
om 9:41 uur.
December 11 at 9:41 AM.
Last modified on December 11, 2019
at 9:41 AM.

Rob Siebelink

Door Rob Siebelink

11 December om 9:41 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 11 December 2019
om 9:41 uur.
Rob Siebelink

By Rob Siebelink

December 11 at 9:41 AM.
Last modified on December 11, 2019
at 9:41 AM.

Approximately three hundred scientists, including 28 from the Netherlands, have been awarded two-million ERC grants for ‘daring and groundbreaking research, and to make new inroads in science’. The ERC (European Research Grant) has evaluated almost 2,500 research proposals.

Wound glue

Marleen Kamperman (1979) is professor of polymer science and focuses on creating new materials. ‘My current focus is on materials that adhere to a wet surface. These could be used on the human body for example, to glue wounds shut instead of suturing them.’

Kamperman hopes to use the ERC grant to develop new materials through environmentally friendly processes. ‘In nature, various organisms create all sorts of fantastic materials, like an octopus beak, spider silk, and the velvet worm’s slime, without using any harmful solvents.’

Many of these materials consist of proteins, and before they reach their final form, they’re encased in their organism in liquid form. ‘The transformation from liquid to the end product is a really interesting process, and I want to study it and simulate it in the lab. I hope to develop a variety of new materials.’

Immune system

Geert van den Bogaart (1980) studied molecular biology and has been a professor of molecular immunology and microbiology in Groningen since 2018.

His research is focused on the connection between the innate immune system and the acquired one. The innate immune system is a quick but not very specific reaction to pathogens. The acquired immune system is slower, but much more purposeful and is necessary when the innate immune system can’t get rid of an infection itself.

Van den Bogaart wants to use the ERC grant to study why, in an infection, an immune response to the pathogens is created, at the same time preventing an auto-immune disease.

Support the Striking Academics

Support the Striking Academics

By Niall Torris
4 December om 12:05 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 4 December 2019
om 12:06 uur.
December 4 at 12:05 PM.
Last modified on December 4, 2019
at 12:06 PM.

For the last two years, I was a union rep for postgraduates as the Graduate Officer of University College Dublin Students’ Union. This involved board-work, campaigning, lobbying and casework. Casework was most of the job and this meant I often represented PhD candidates and Doctoral researchers with tiny incomes (called stipends) on a range of issues. The issues they faced were complex and often had a toxic effect on their lives and studies.

Sometimes a case had a “HR” element which boiled down to this: An early stage researcher is consistently pushed beyond their limit trying to balance teaching students, grading papers and research to keep their supervisors and departments happy. Inevitably they fail and occasionally that relationship goes rotten so they’d come to me for help. Here in the Netherlands they enjoy a slightly better lot, but I never thought this problem existed for ‘full-time’ contract academics.

So, when I read an article by this paper titled ‘No emails or grades due to ‘work-to-rule’’, I was shocked. It told me academics were striking and only working the hours they were paid for. Now, the only personal negative from the strike was that my grades weren’t delayed as they were MCQs (if you know a good stats tutor, contact me). But the strike reveals how hard the RUG pushes academics to provide their expertise without payment. As students, we rely on these academics for a stimulating educational experience. It’s important they are supported and treated right.

It’s not radical to think anyone deserves a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work and academics are no different. Yet we’re constantly given a choice between the two and left with neither. In this gig economy, we must be flexible. Of course, this means pushing ourselves to breakpoint for penny-pinching employers offering zero-hour contracts for little reward. Sure, a ‘good job’ pays better but there’s so much work ‘regular’ hours won’t get the job done and you stay late or take it home. So, it’s ‘work for free or lose it all’. Where’s the work/life balance?

Dishearteningly, strike-participant Professor Casper Albers said in this paper that the RUG board agreed with them and encouraged the striking academics to contact the minister, who sent them back to the board. My message to the striking academics is this: If the RUG really cared they’d be playing on the same team as you, instead they are smiling in your faces and using you as a political football to play a passing game with the government. But you have my support and the support of many of us demanding our lives back.

It’s truly shocking that the RUG and the government are even practicing passing drills with this. Universities rely on academics to research and educate us just to exist. Academics are of such benefit to society that many governments, including this one, pay universities to exist and rely on their expertise to create policy and educate the public. If they care, they need to start acting like it.

Solidarity!

Video: Window washers at the Linnaeusborg

500 windows a day

Video: Window washers at the Linnaeusborg

Who are the people who clean the seemingly unreachable windows at the Linnaeusborg? Meet the brave window washers of the Argo cleaning organisation. Do they enjoy the view from their gondola? ‘Not really, we’re mainly focused on our work.’
Video by Lidian Boelens
21 November om 11:26 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 21 November 2019
om 11:27 uur.
November 21 at 11:26 AM.
Last modified on November 21, 2019
at 11:27 AM.

Video: Studying and you’re deaf

Video: Studying and you’re deaf

Studying and you’re deaf? That can be pretty difficult. During the European Deaf STEM conference, deaf students from all over the world came together to exchange experiences.
Video by Rianne Aalbers
20 November om 10:15 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 20 November 2019
om 10:15 uur.
November 20 at 10:15 AM.
Last modified on November 20, 2019
at 10:15 AM.

Council disagrees with reorganisation facility management

Photo: Piter Siebenga

‘This plan won’t solve anything’

Council against reorganising facility management

The RUG facility management department will not be reorganised any time soon. On Thursday, the university council sent a proposal by the board of directors back to the drawing table. The board will now have to come up with a new plan.
19 November om 14:06 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 20 November 2019
om 10:21 uur.
November 19 at 14:06 PM.
Last modified on November 20, 2019
at 10:21 AM.

Rob Siebelink

Door Rob Siebelink

19 November om 14:06 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 20 November 2019
om 10:21 uur.
Rob Siebelink

By Rob Siebelink

November 19 at 14:06 PM.
Last modified on November 20, 2019
at 10:21 AM.

The services the department offers currently vary from faculty to faculty. Security tasks and front desk staffing differ, as well as how keys are given out and how malfunctions and complaints are handled, says the RUG.

When someone calls in sick, management ‘would rather call the employment agency than a colleague at a faculty one hundred metres away’, and people do not sufficiently exchange knowledge and experiences. As a result, the departments ‘keep inventing the wheel over and over again’, says the board of directors.

No cutbacks

To combat this, the RUG wants to bring together the separate services into a central organisational unit that would be part of Facility Management. The board emphasised that they were not looking to make any cutbacks and that no one would lose their job. There would barely be any practical changes to the 140 facility management employees’ jobs.

Hans Biemans, the board member responsible for finances, says especially the facility management departments at the smaller faculties are vulnerable. ‘If a light goes out and there’s no concierge, who’s going to replace the light bulb? Who’s going to take on that job? There are a lot of small ways in which things can go wrong, and we need to improve matters.’

The board says that a central organisational unit would be more efficient. It would also save money. ‘In the end, we want the RUG to get more quality for the same price.’

‘Insufficient’

But just like last year, when there was a similar proposal on the table, a majority of the university council didn’t like it much. They felt the plan would cause rather than solve problems. There is no clear cause or reason to set an operation like this in motion, says the council, and the board’s argument are ‘entirely insufficient’. ‘This proposal solves nothing’, says Dinie Bouwman, chair of the personnel faction.

The facility management department has also told the university council that they’re not doing too great. Bouwman: ‘Apparently it’s a bit of a mess.’ Few of the facility management employees who currently answer to individual faculties are actually interested in making the change towards a central organisation, says the personnel faction.

City centre

According to university president Jouke de Vries, employees at the smaller faculties as well as those at Zernike are fine with a central department. He says the naysayers work at a few faculties in the city centre.

The board chairman said the story you hear depends on who you ask. ‘I’ve had people in my office who do want this proposal to succeed. Not everyone is against it, and especially the smaller faculties will benefit.’

The board of directors will present a changed proposal later this academic year.

29 RUG students in Hong Kong affected by protests

Photo Studio Incendo

RUG students in Hong Kong affected by protests

‘Rubber bullets in the student residences’

Twenty-nine RUG students in Hong Kong have been affected by the schools and universities closing in the former British colony. Student of arts, culture, and media Noralie Leidinger is one of the students who is trying to get home.
Rob Siebelink, Christien Boomsma and Anne de Vries
14 November om 14:08 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 18 November 2019
om 16:16 uur.
November 14 at 14:08 PM.
Last modified on November 18, 2019
at 16:16 PM.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced a ‘code yellow’ for Hong Kong, warning of security risks in the region. There are protests and roadblocks, especially around police stations, government offices, universities, and underground stations, often leading to violent confrontations between protesters and the police. There were some violent confrontations between police officers and protesters around the universities as well.

Student of arts, culture, and media Nora Leidinger is on an exchange at the City University of Hong Kong. ‘The situation is really difficult right now’, she says. ‘The universities are shut and the police is shooting with teargas and rubberbullets on campus and in the student residences.’


Refugee camp

The campus currently looks more like a refugee camp than university property, says Leidinger. ‘We are going to bring some first aid supplies and food to the campus.’

She is trying to book the quickest flight home, but it’s not easy. It’s also difficult to obtain any reliable information. ‘Almost all news we receive here goes via Instagram, but that means I will open my feed and not only see the necessary Hong Kong updates, but everydays posts about fashion, 11.11 and the likes. Which creates a surreal mental splitscreen on the current events in Hong Kong versus back home.’

Financial aids

The university has been contacting students through letters and emails. They’re advising them on what to do and where to go if they get into trouble, said RUG president Jouke de Vries during a university council meeting this Thursday. The RUG will also help out financially if students need money because of the situation, for instance to book an earlier flight home. ‘We’re closely monitoring the situation.’

The protesters in Hong Kong are fighting for more democracy and less influence from the central government in Beijing. Since the unrest started, approximately three thousand people have been arrested.

Vertaling Sarah van Steenderen

No emails or grades due to ‘work-to-rule’

Last year, professor Barend van Heusden protested by teaching his class outside, on the Grote Markt.

No emails or grades due to ‘work-to-rule’

University lecturers, including the ones in Groningen, are on a ‘work-to-rule’ strike this month. They will not be answering emails or grading exams.
13 November om 11:46 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 13 November 2019
om 12:32 uur.
November 13 at 11:46 AM.
Last modified on November 13, 2019
at 12:32 PM.

I’ve joined the so-called ‘work-to-rule’ strike organised by WOinActie. This means that I only work as many hours as I’m contracted for. Over the past few years, structurally working overtime has had a negative effect on my private life and my well-being.

This is the autoreply of lecturers participating in the ‘work-to-rule’ strike. This means that lecturers work ‘normal’ eight-hour workdays, no more and no less. ‘If I work a regular eight hours, only on workdays and not during the weekend, I don’t even come close to finishing my work, says Barend van Heusden, professor of art and humanities.

‘We want to show that the work pressure at the university is too high’, he says. The number of students has increased by 68 percent since 2000, while government funding has only increased 25 percent per student. On top of that, the Netherlands spend much less on academic education than other countries; it’s at number 19 in the world ranking, just below Turkey, Serbia, and Slovakia.

Yoga classes and stuff

‘There is something really wrong at universities here’, says Casper Albers, adjunct professor of applied statistics and data visualisation. The university is taking action to combat stress, but it’s ‘just yoga classes and stuff’.

Nobody is coming up with structural solutions, he says. ‘The university board agrees with us and says we should take it to the minister. But the minister just sends us back to our board.’

‘Many lecturers have an extremely tight schedule’, says Maarten Goldberg, FNV union consultant at the RUG. ‘That means they often have to do other work outside their scheduled hours.’ Goldberg doesn’t encounter this problem for himself, but he is participating in the strike. ‘I’m sympathetic, because I understand exactly why they’re doing this.’

No commitment

Casper Alber’s students aren’t unduly affected by the strike. ‘It’s more towards colleagues or other staff who email me.’ He often receives messages from psychology people who need something analysed and have questions about the statistic of their project. But Albers doesn’t commit to them; any extra hours he has goes to his own research.

Van Heusden is taking a different approach: during the strike he will not be checking exams within the ten-day period prescribed. ‘Students think it’s easy for us to check their work, but they don’t realise how long it takes. A lot of lecturers have this problem.’

Goldberg has noticed this issue as well. ‘We use a certain norm to calculate the number of education hours. If you use an average class of twenty students as the norm, everything works out.’

But when a class is particularly popular and has, for example, twenty-five students, lecturers are faced with a lot more work. ‘They’ll have to check five more papers, answer mail from five more people.’

Cursory glance

At a certain point, this gets in the way of other tasks. ‘It feels like all you do is teach, and superiors get on your case for not publishing more articles.’ That means lecturers spend their free time on their research. ‘That’s not right, but it happens all the time.’

Fortunately, many students have responded positively to the strike, says Van Heusden. ‘I explained to them this morning that it would take longer and why, and their response was pretty great’, he says. ‘I could do it in the time allotted, but then I’d just give it a cursory glance and give it a fairly random grade.’ He wouldn’t be able to properly comment on the students’ work. ‘Then they wouldn’t learn anything.’

Big bag of money

Casper Albers doesn’t think the strike will make much of a difference. ‘I don’t expect the minister to suddenly get it and give us a big bag of money to buy some new colleagues’, says Albers.

After all, professors are a lot less threatening than, say, a bunch of farmers. ‘Ministers know that we’ll still be coming up with perfectly nuanced arguments when we’re angry. It’s just not very news-worthy.’

‘But we do want to send a signal and show that we’re willing to take action’, he says. They want to make sure that if they ever strike for real, it won’t be a surprise. ‘We’ve already demonstrated what we’re willing to do for change.’

Stamppot will save your wretched soul

This is an ongoing series where the UKrant unpacks weird and wonderful Dutch things for our international readers. Today’s episode: stamppot
By Megan Embry

It’s cold and wet and grey and Dutchies everywhere are delighted. Because shitty weather means one thing: it’s stamppot season, bitches!

How to stamppot:

  1. Boil the shit out of some potatoes.
  2. Boil the shit out of some vegetables.
  3. Mash everything together.
  4. Season the pot with the salty tears of internationals who just want to chew their food, for Chrissake.
  5. Top it all off with a sausage you bought at HEMA and carried home in a bag along with your new socks.

That’s it! That’s all it takes to make the Dutchest damn meal you’ll ever eat. You haven’t really integrated until you’ve learned to love stamppot.

Culinary savages

The first time an earnest Dutch friend offers you a plate of green mush topped with a sausage that looks like something your dog left behind in the Noorderplantsoen, you might be tempted to recoil.

International Faculty of Arts staff member Courtney Schellekens says she won’t touch the stuff, no matter how many times her Dutch friends offer it to her. ‘These people are culinary savages,’ she says. ‘I don’t trust them.’

But before you crush your own Dutchie’s stamppot-loving heart, you should take a moment to learn what makes this meal such a national treasure in the first place.

Calvinism

The Dutch love stamppot because it is the edible representation of two things that are foundational to their identity: Calvinism and a strong sense of national superiority.

Calvin finds two things irresistible: grace and stamppot.

Way back in the 1540s, the protestant teachings of French reformer John Calvin made it all the way to the Netherlands, where nobles and common folk converted in droves.

Catholic Spain was annoyed by this and responded by killing lots of protestants. William of Orange fought back and the Eighty Years’ war broke out.

What does that have to do with stamppot?

The food you deserve

Well, Calvinists believe that all people are born sinners. The life of the Christian is therefore an exercise in resisting one’s nastier impulses towards greed, laziness, selfishness, gluttony, dishonesty, and the like. This is where the Dutch get their strong sense of integrity, moderation, thrift, straight-forwardness, and industry.

Calvinists also believed that sinners deserve punishment. They embraced suffering and discipline in this life because they thought it would refine and purify their souls for heaven. As Calvin put it, ‘you must submit to supreme suffering in order to discover the completion of joy.’

I take this to be a partial explanation for why the Dutch are so quick to embrace stamppot. If you’re a sinner, this is the food that you deserve.

Behold this plate of punished mush, O fallen man, and reflect on the damnation you have narrowly escaped by refusing to indulge in food for pleasure’s sake. Eat; suffer; be saved.

Fuck off, Spain

The other reason the Dutch love stamppot is because of that one time when they beat the pants off Spain.

Phillip II wags his dumb finger at William of Orange

Stamppot is a direct descendant of hutspot, which (according to Dutch lore) dates back to the Eighty Years’ War. During the Siege of Leiden, starving Dutch rebels battled Spanish occupiers for months.

Finally, in a stroke of Dutch brilliance, the rebels breached their own dikes and flooded the area so they could sail ships in to back up the resistance.

The Spaniards retreated in such a hurry that they left still-hot pots of mushy carrots, parsnips, meat, and onion behind. The Leideners devoured it all, middle fingers held aloft in defiant salute as their defeated enemies fled. So the legend goes. Kind of.

Superior

Leideners still eat hutspot every year to commemorate their superiority over the Spanish. Turning it into the national meal was a low-key way of advertising to other would-be attackers: ‘Don’t fuck with the Dutch. We love to suffer, unlike you pansies. We will flood you out of our country because we COMMAND THE VERY SEAS and then we will eat your goddam lunch when you run away. Sad.’

Eventually, the Dutch swapped the parsnips for potatoes (because what meal isn’t improved by potatoes? says every Dutch person ever) and stamppot was born.

So go ahead. Accept that steaming pile of stamppot. Close your eyes and savor every bite. Because this is what victory over your enemies and the salvation of your eternal soul tastes like. Heel lekker.


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