Tilburg University elects: Bert Willems, TiU International
This week, Tilburg University staff elect the members of the new University Council. In this Council, employee parties help decide on university policy. Bert Willems is the leading candidate on the list of one of the two parties that can be elected: TiU International. He talks about the action points of his party and what they have achieved in the past two years.
What is your personal motivation for entering the participation council (again)?
“I started participating in the TiSEM School Council eight years ago. My consideration was that you can complain about how things are going at the university, but then you have to be willing to do something. A more proactive role, in other words. The past two elections (2018, 2020, ed.) I was leading candidate on the list for TiU International, and I am participating in one more election to ensure continuity within my party. The other two members are leaving.”
What are the issues at Tilburg University?
“A university is about people: the students, the academic staff, and the support staff. Tilburg University does not always succeed in attracting and retaining good people. Staff turnover is high. This is partly a sign of dynamism. But when very committed people also leave, that is a bad sign. We are not doing enough to make the university sufficiently attractive.
‘There has been more distance between academic and support staff in recent years. The lines are longer and there are more rules’
“In addition, we are still feeling the effects of the major reorganization from 2015. That’s when all the support staff was centralized into the current Divisions. This has put more distance between the academic and support staff. The lines are longer and there are more rules. One example is ICT, where certain things are still not properly regulated.”
What is going well, on the other hand?
“Our new Executive Board, which has changed its composition with the new Rector and Vice-Rector, is working well. I like the way they try to create cooperation amongst themselves, the Deans of the Schools, and the Directors of the Divisions. It is good to see how they involve the five Schools as much as possible in university policy.
“Also, the new EB communicates clearly and quickly, and they give the impression that they listen to the academic community much more than they used to. I think of the coronavirus updates in recent years, but also reactions to current issues. Often, it used to be the case that other universities had already spoken out for or against something, and Tilburg University had not yet. That has changed for the better.”
What will TiU International be working on in the near future?
“On behalf of the academic staff, we want to continue to point out in the University Council that education and research are the foundation of the university. Trendy terms such as ‘lifelong learning’, ‘generating impact,’ and ‘appealing to the media’ regularly rear their heads. These are good things, but it is important not to lose sight of the fact that this means extra work at a time when the workload is already incredibly high. Time for one’s own research in full academic freedom should be a right.
‘A University Council is not a parliament. Our most powerful weapon is to ask questions and contribute ideas to the EB’
“As far as support staff are concerned, we think it is important that they have career prospects within the university. The large number of part-time and project-based jobs make Tilburg University unattractive; employees like to have control over their careers. We want to focus on information about opportunities for advancement within one’s own Division, or another.
“In addition, we think it is important to talk about increasing the lecturer-student ratio. The underlying objective is clear: a lower workload and good education. But steering by ratios is not the Holy Grail. Therefore, we must first establish how we will achieve those goals and how we will pay for them.
“Appointing more researchers on temporary projects is good for the ratio but doesn’t relieve the workload. Can we save on real estate? What should our future staff structure look like? Researchers who also lecture, or can these two tasks be separated? And how does that choice affect the quality of education? This discussion needs to be had.”
What are your main achievements from the previous round?
“A University Council is not a parliament. By that I mean that our most powerful weapon is to ask questions and contribute ideas. In the past two years, for example, we have provided critical input on the policy regarding the Recognition & Rewards program, and we have asked questions about the position of people on tenure track; did they have enough research time?
‘We are there for the voices that are not heard enough: people from migrant backgrounds, the lecturer on a temporary contract, the international PhD researcher, and the female scientist’
“We also succeeded in getting the EB to think about the approachability of the occupational health physicians. This was at a time when the university was engaging a different occupational health and safety service. We emphasized the importance of the employee perspective in that decision: ‘Also consider what an employee needs to see a occupational health physician.'”
Why should employees vote for you?
“TiU International, as its name suggests, has an international, open, and inclusive vision of the university. Our motto is: knowledge knows no border. We want to learn from how other universities, in the Netherlands but also abroad, are doing. That is why we are committed to making Tilburg University attractive for all employees and students and to making them feel at home here. We are there for the voices that are not heard enough, people with a migrant background, the lecturer with a temporary contract, the international PhD researcher, and the female scientist.”
A personal question, to end with. What is your favorite place on the campus?
“Oh, I’ll have to think about that for a while. The quiet garden behind Building C maybe. No, I’d still go for the Sports Center and cafeteria there. In the gym, where faculty and students run into each other outside of education moments, you really feel that the academic community is alive. That’s something the campus could use a little more of, a vibrant life outside of office hours.”
Translated by Language Center, Riet Bettonviel