It’s now or never, University Council!

The next University Council meeting, on February 7, will be the moment of truth: the council members must decide about the Executive Board's proposition to give the University Council and faculty councils the right to consult and "the right to discuss" when it comes to adding and removing educational programmes from the university's catalogue.

The staff members are inclined to agree with the proposition, while the student parties are still on the fence, which is remarkable: the University Councils of 2019-2020 and 2020-2021, as well as several faculty councils, were always unanimous in their opinion that they should have the right to consent, not the right to consult. That is not just the opinion of the co-determination bodies at UU: at the University of Amsterdam, the right to consent to the education programmes that are offered has been acknowledged for both the University Council and the faculty councils.

Insufficient information
At the moment, the faculty board is free to add or remove a study programme, as long as the Executive Board agrees with it. But the Board thinks that the co-determination bodies should have no formal say in these matters. Not only that, but these bodies are typically involved so late in the process that their critical notes can be shoved aside, simply because of how far along the process is by then.

These past few years, study programmes have been originated despite the fact that the co-determination bodies were insufficiently informed or even against their conception. For instance, the council of the Faculty of Science was sent from pillar to post in their quest to co-determine the new programme Molecular and Biophysical Life Sciences (MBLS). In addition, worries about internationalisation were mostly ignored regarding the Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) programme offered by the faculties of Law, Humanities, and Economics and Governance.

Some iteration of the right to consent is needed for important decisions, such as adding or removing a study programme. The party with the right to consent has the final say. The right to consult in combination with the right to consent, applied in the right places, can make sure that the required monitoring of the process of adding a new study programme takes place.

This way, not only co-determination itself is ensured, but also its feasibility. So, we're calling for no pillar to post and an assurance that the moment of co-determination does not take place so late that it can no longer add value. UUinActie thinks the right to consent to the addition of new study programmes is a crucial part of the rights of the co-determination bodies.

Dispute procedure
That the laws agree that the right to consent applies to the study programmes on offer was confirmed last year by a legal expert in higher education hired by the University Council. The expert referred to the 2006 ruling by the National Committee for co-determination Disputes in Higher Education. The Committee makes binding decisions about differences in interpretation of the law by the co-determination bodies and the Board.

However, the Executive Board thinks that the law doesn’t acknowledge the right to consent for starting and interrupting educational programmes. After all, the Council would already have the right to consent to policy plans that lead to the starting or stopping of the programs, such as the five-year strategic plan.

From 2019 until 2021, two University Councils, supported by several faculty councils, have remained steadfast in their view that co-determination bodies should have the right to consent. In June 2021, these discussions came to a halt. That year’s University Council, as well as its predecessor, agreed that they wanted to stop discussing this subject with the Executive Board. They announced plans to go to the supervisory board to start a dispute procedure. It was an unprecedented joining of forces with a clear, common goal. After some political skill, the Executive Board was able to offer the Council one last proposition.

That proposition is now being examined by the new University Council, the third Council that has dealt with this issue. The Executive Board wants to give the Council and the faculty councils the formal right to consult in matters of the study programs on offer. The University Council also gets the right to discuss the study programs on offer and the student numbers with the Executive Board once a year, the so-called ‘right to discuss’.

This proposition is not new. The Executive Board has agreed before to provide faculty councils with the right to consult and had also proposed a once-yearly meeting about this subject. The Council had a clear ruling about this proposition: the right to consult is insufficient by definition. Now, a big stick is needed by the democratically chosen representation: the University Council and/or the faculty councils.

The term ‘right to discuss’ is misleading and therefore harmful: the law gives co-determination bodies to right to put subjects on the agenda, so they are always able to discuss items in (separate) meetings – this is like a gift from your own pocket. The Board is well aware of this. The only ‘new’ element the Board has proposed now is the Council’s right to consult. By just offering only this right, the Board couldn’t be more clear in their ignorance of the previous Councils’ decision, while benefitting from the inexperience of the new Council: politics at its worst.

Not taken seriously
If the Council deems the law unnecessary, they give the Board the freedom to give the co-determination bodies more rights to consent than it already prescripts ‘without prejudice’. If the Board would truly see the value of and acknowledge co-determination, it would have recognised their right to consent a long time ago, just like many other Dutch universities have done. Instead, the Board is feverishly avoiding granting the co-determination bodies more rights, while showing disrespect by playing for time and stretching cases out for years, all the while happily hiding behind the Judicial Department. They are democratic only as long as it suits them.

University Council, take your right seriously and at least protect the faculty councils by handing the matter over to the Dispute Committee - a very logical step in cases like these, where the Council and Board have a different interpretation of the law. The only way to keep functioning as a co-determination body is by building on the work of previous council members. In 2021, 48 councilmembers and tens of faculty councils were united: the right to consent, or let the Dispute Committee have their say. University Council, it is now or never!