Do you remember what happened?
2018 in 14 questions
1. Which university council party put a definitive end to the RUG’s plans to establish a branch campus in the Chinese city of Yantai?
After years of heated debates, the academic community was divided over the Yantai project. But finally, a decision was made: there would be no RUG branch campus in the Chinese city of Yantai.
Student party Lijst Calimero, which held five seats on the council, was the deciding factor. Some people said it was ridiculous that five students had the power to stop plans of this magnitude. Faction chair Henk-Jan Wondergem countered this in an interview with UKrant: ‘That’s democracy.’
Because Calimero, who had wavered between sides, ended up voting against the plans, there was no supporting majority in the council. Individual faculties will still be allowed to work with Yantai, but it’s still unclear what that collaboration will look like.
You can read a reconstruction about how it all went wrong at the last minute: How they finally pulled the plug.
Even though the Yantai plans fell through, people were still talking about it. DAG member Jasper Been spent a year researching the funding history of the branch campus; in the late summer he published claims that the RUG had used public funds for the Yantai preparations, which was not allowed (DAG: Public funds went to Yantai). The report also claimed that RUG staff spent more hours on the project than the university recorded officially.
Been’s findings led an investigation by the Education Inspectorate. The RUG set up a ‘Yantai hotline’ where staff could report how many hours they had actually worked on the plans (RUG: Investigation into ‘Yantai hours). The results of both investigations are expected in 2019.
You can read the interview with Jasper Been here: ‘I just did what any accountant would do’.
Do you need a refresher on all things Yantai? Read our timeline: The end of the Chinese dream.
2. In 2018, the RUG hired a new caterer for the RUG canteens, Beijk Catering Service. The move was widely criticized. What was the criticism?
Students and staff complained endlessly about new caterer Beijk in the canteens: the prices are higher and the portions smaller, there aren’t enough hot meal options, vegan and vegetarian options are lacking. In short, all three answers are correct. UKrant reported on the criticism: Expensive muffins and small cups.
After all this criticism, the prices were changed. But it didn’t help much. An UKrant poll from June (six months after Beijk started) showed that RUG students and staff were still avoiding the canteens. Half of them brought their own lunch, and 40 percent said they would rather spend their money elsewhere.
A recent survey by Beijk showed that staff and students are still largely dissatisfied with the food on offer and its quality. But they did have some general praise for Beijk employees.
In The Canteen Debacle you can read the story we wrote about this in June.
3. An investigation concluded that the pressure to perform is extremely high at the RUG. At the insistence of the university council, the board of directors finally made the decision to do something about it this in November. What did their decision entail?
Almost all RUG staff suffer from poor work/life balance. An employee survey showed that the relationship between education, research, and administrative work was also out of balance. Work pressure is a ‘multi-faceted issue’ and everyone agrees that the pressure needs to be lowered.
The university will make five million euros available each year to remedy this issue. The faculties and facilities departments are tasked with spending this money on extra personnel to combat the pressure. The board of directors said that both academic and administrative staff have to feel that their load has been lightened. Whether this measure will be successful remains to be seen.
You can read our story Never finished, never done here.
4. What did princess Máxima says on King’s Day (27 April) during the walk across the Broerplein to RUG (and international top) draughts players Roel Boomsma and Wouter Sipma?
On King’s Day on 27 April, Willem-Alexander and Máxima visited Groningen. The RUG played a large role during the royal family’s walk through the city centre.<p?Students sang the Dutch song ‘Het gras van het Noorderplantsoen’ and Nobel Prize winner Ben Feringa taught a mini-class about his nano-car at the Broerplein.
RUG draughts players Roel Boomstra and Wouter Sipma gave master class in speed draughts. ‘Suddenly she (Máxima) was standing right next to us’, the players later said. ‘She thought the game was going really fast so she advised us to focus. And we did.’
UKrant did a photo essay on King’s Day and the RUG: The royal visit in pictures (Dutch only).
5. In August , the RUG erected tents for homeless international students, who had to pay 12.50 per night for a basic bed, but the RUG changed their policy after it was lambasted. What changed?
More students than ever came to study at the RUG this year: almost 8,000, approximately 3,000 of whom were internationals. The RUG set up a tent camp – among other things - for homeless internationals.
The international students were asked to pay 12.50 per night to stay in the tents. But after much criticism from inside and outside the RUG, the fee was cancelled. Anyone who’d already paid was reimbursed, and the ACLO tents became free.
Internationals also stayed at a former school building and a hotel boat (which was very expensive). At the Suikerlaan, construction of a container village was underway. But the construction was delayed, agreements were broken, and units were still dirty when students moved in. It was all kind of a mess.
Local politicians got involved with the issue. Last fall, the municipal council said that there should be at least 750 beds available for students at the start of the academic year in 2019. The city also wants to get rid of short stay contracts.
Spanish master student Rafael Fernandez went undercover for the UKrant and reported on what it was like to stay at the camp in his Tent Diaries.
The UKrant Dossier on Housing contains an overview of all our articles on this issue.
6. On 1 October, Jouke de Vries succeeded Sibrand Poppema as president of the board of directors. Before that, De Vries served as dean at Campus Fryslân in Leeuwarden. Some people weren’t happy with his appointment. Why?
After two five-year terms as president of the board, Sibrand Poppema, both revered and reviled, retired in September. Jouke de Vries succeeded him. He had previously served as dean at the Campus Fryslân in Leeuwarden.
Many RUG employees, both male and female, had argued for a female board president in the months running up to Poppema’s retirement, since the current board was populated only by men (Jan de Jeu and Elmer Sterken) and the university had never been governed by a woman in the four hundred years since its inception.
Lower House MP Liliane Ploumen, who was awarded the Aletta Jacobs prize by the RUG in March, also called for a woman. ‘The fact that the RUG has never had a female rector or president is appalling’, she said in an interview with UKrant.
In September, UKrant did a final interview with Sibrand Poppema: ‘It’s in my nature to look ahead’.
7. Fuzzy university cat Doerak officially became a RUG student in September when he was given a RUG ID. But what does the Dutch word ‘doerak’ mean?
All of the above. Doerak is a Russian word and means dummy or fool. In Dutch, doerak used to mean a nasty and mean person, but it later morphed into the softer, often well-meant ‘rascal’ (source: OnzeTaal).
Doerak is the fluffy darling of the Harmony building. The tomcat slinks between the legs of students and staff alike and everyone loves to pet him. He often naps during class.
The RUG rewarded him with a student ID and he is now ‘officially’ known as Professor Doctor Doerak. The University Museum is dedicating an exhibition to the phenomenon of university cats.
Do you want to refresh your memory on how Doerak traipsed his way into our hearts? See our video: Doerak: Harmony’s own cuddly cat.
8. In March, UKrant published a controversial story about discrimination against internationals at the RUG. Colleagues would call Mexican PhD student Alejandra by the wrong name. Which name was this?
The correct answer is Consuela, (the Mexican cleaning lady character from the popular American television series ‘Family Guy’).
Both international staff and students at the RUG are often the target of subtle prejudice and jokes that stereoptype (which, while they may be made in ‘good fun’, can still be hurtful). The two-part story When Dutch directness hurts as well as a poll we held among internationals shines a light on the phenomenon.
The two-parter opened many people’s eyes and struck a nerve within the RUG. Hundreds of people responded to it and several ‘perpetrators’ came up with excuses, as if they had never realized how hurtful their remarks could be.
Rector magnificus Elmer Sterken also made a statement on the issue. In an interview with UKrant in response to ‘Consuela’ and the prejudices at the RUG, he said ‘I think we can do better'.
9. After a series of incidents, the members of the board of association Vindicat were definitively denied a committee grant for this academic year. What led to this decision?
The punitive measure was taken because Vindicat had failed to report a violent incident: Vindicat conceals more abuse.
In December 2017, an incident took place inside Vindicat’s headquarters at the Grote Markt, where one member of the association was assaulted by two others. The student ended up with a concussion, chipped teeth, and a cut on his face.
According the Behavioural Code for Student Organisations, which Vindicat signed, the incident should have been reported to the Advice Committee Orientation. The board failed to do so. Physical violence against members itself is in violation of the Code.
Read the story No committee grants for Vindicat here.
10. Early in September, angry students occupied the Academy building steps. What were they protesting?
More than one hundred students occupied the Academy building steps to protest the housing crisis in Groningen. ‘What do we want? Housing! When do we want it? Now!’ rang out through the stately building. The protesters also sang the partisan battle song ‘Bella Ciao’.
They threatened to stay in the Academy building all night if the RUG refused to sign a statement. The university locked the doors to the building, the police were brought in, and Jan de Jeu showed up to represent the board of directors. The students ended the occupation when the RUG signed the statement.,p>The statement said that the RUG would speak out against the current funding model in higher education that is mainly based on student numbers. This system turns students from people into ‘walking bags of money and Excel statistics.’
Read the story and watch the video here: ‘What do we want? Housing!’.
11. In October Azim A., also known as the Korreweg shooter, was convicted by the Groningen court for shooting student Sydney. What was the ruling?
The Groningen court sentenced Azim A. to ten years in jail and time in an institution for the criminally insane. In October 2017 A. shot student Sydney for no discernable reason at the Korreweg in Groningen. Sydney is paralysed for life and confined to a wheelchair. Shortly after the sentencing, A.’s lawyer said A. would be appealing the conviction. The appeal will take place in 2019.
The Public Prosecution asked for twelve years in prison and time in an institution because they felt attempted murder had been proven. However, the court disagreed and said that A.’s actions weren’t premeditated.
The court was extremely dismayed that the defendant didn’t ‘take any responsibility or give any indication as to his motivations’. During the court session, A. continued to exercise his right to silence. ‘This must be awful to Sydney and his family.’
12. RUG professor of ecology Han Olff has on more than one occasion been called a crappy scientist, a pig, and a Nazi. Why?
Ecologist Han Olff has been studying large ecological systems and biodiversity for approximately 25 years. He thinks the Oostvaardersplassen are doing just fine. This led to an intense response from his opponents, who say that what’s happening is animal abuse.
As an ecologist, Olff has different ideas. He thinks the project, which left a young ecosystem consisting of plants, birds, and large grazers, to develop on its own has succeeded. The fact that the population of cattle, horses, and deer went down from 3,500 to 2,000 animals over the winter only proves to him that the most important ecological principles are working.
Read the frank interview with Han Olff here: Abused and insulted.
13. Critics said the RUG board of directors should have attended the WOinActie manifestation in The Hague in December. The RUG didn’t attend. Which two other universities did?
UvA boss Geert ten Dam was at The Hague: ‘I think it’s only logical that I’m joining my students and staff’. VU managers Mirjam van Praag and Marjolein Jansen joined their people as well.
The RUG board of director said that ‘publicly supporting WOinActie’ was ‘already a lot’. Many of the university council members and WoinActie were disappointed. In the end, approximately two to three thousand people showed up to the manifestation.
You can find our story All words and no action, on the criticism levelled at the RUG board, here.
The December manifestation wasn’t the only protest WOinActie organised; in September, lecturers in Groningen and various other cities protested by teaching classes outside: Ice-cold classes for WOinActie.
14. The RUG currently employs more internationals than ever, and the international student population has grown exponentially. How many different nationalities are there at the RUG?
The RUG is growing more than even, the university reported in November. According to official RUG numbers published in October, there are 31,000 students at the university, 7,000 of whom are international. The RUG employs almost 6,000 people.
A third of all academic personnel is from abroad. In total , the RUG has approximately 120 nationalities.