Tilburg University elects: Mirjam Siesling, the Independents
This week Tilburg University staff elect the members of the new University Council. In this Council, employee parties help decide on university policy. Mirjam Siesling, program manager at MindLabs, is the leading candidate on the list of one of the two parties that can be elected: the Independents. She talks about the action points and achievements of her party and about her personal motives.
What are the issues at Tilburg University?
“What I am concerned about is the level of engagement between the workplace and the management of the university. More and more, I wonder what the employees experience in their daily work of what the management decides. The Board likes to pretend that everyone is happy with the plans and that it speaks to everyone, then I think: is that really true?
“If you ask a random colleague at the coffee machine: what do you know about our strategy, how do you feel about it, do you want to contribute to it, do you experience it in your daily work? Then I really ask myself whether that is an issue. And whether employees feel they have the space to immerse themselves in it. I notice that the scientific staff in particular are not very interested. Or people find it interesting but are unwilling or unable to free themselves up for it.
‘I think it’s positive that this Board is trying to innovate things’
“I also raise my hand because we represent the workplace. It is our job to have eyes and ears everywhere and to involve employees. But I also make an appeal to the Board: the Council cannot be your only channel to contact employees, that would be too meager.”
What is going well, on the other hand?
“I notice that this Board is doing its best to actively involve the Schools in policy plans. For example, by making School strategy plans run parallel to the university strategy. And by instructing Deans to draw certain strategic themes.
“Also, I think it’s positive that this Board is trying to innovate things. They dare to set a signature. For example, choosing Digital Sciences for Society as a major theme and offering a basic course for all students on artificial intelligence and digitalization. The choice to work with academic collaborative centers is also a good example. Of course, you always have proponents and opponents, but the fact that people are choosing to go in one direction I think is good.”
You are beginning a fourth term on the University Council, including a second as party chair. What are your personal motivations for doing this work?
“There is a mix of reasons to join another round. In our party, we have had quite a few changes recently, and I am the most experienced colleague. While it’s good to have new faces and voices from time to time, I didn’t want to leave them alone now.
‘Young lecturers who have to leave after a few years; that’s really capital destruction’
“In addition, I really enjoy the work. The Board is relatively new; I look forward to working with them for several more years. Also, it’s good that I can now reap the benefits of the routine I’ve built up.”
What will the Independents be working on in the coming period?
“We focus on four different themes. First, education, which has long been a theme in our party. Good lecturers should be given as much credit in terms of career as good researchers. We also think lecturer well-being is very important. There is sometimes a strong emphasis on student well-being, but there is no student well-being without lecturer well-being.
“Doing research is teamwork, that’s another important point. You have to avoid having individual star researchers in a Department to whom all the praise and privileges go. There is no such thing as one individual generating a single individual grant. So, you have to value and encourage that differently.
‘That’s when I felt that participation was working the way it should’
“Then there is the issue of HR and employees. We think it is important that our HR Division is really there for the employee rather than as an advisor to university management. A help desk for employees with questions about career development or salary negotiations, for example. We also think the position of people with temporary appointments is important. Young lecturers who have to leave again after a few years; that is really capital destruction. I recently spoke to a TiU lecturer in his fifties who has never had a permanent position in his entire professional career. Can you imagine what that does to life choices?
“Finally, we want the university to participate in society and be a good neighbor and fellow citizen. Whether it be sustainability, housing for students, or recruiting among students for whom going to university is not obvious. The university has a social responsibility.”
What are the major achievements of the past period? What are the Independents proud of?
“What I am very pleased about myself is the outcome of a discussion that erupted last summer in response to an article about the Catholic identity of Tilburg University. Colleagues called, emailed, and sent us WhatsApp messages and said: what is this? Have you discussed this in the Council? I don’t feel comfortable with this.
“There was a small storm of protest, and we then voiced that in the Council meeting. The Board listened to the voices on the workplace, even if they were contrary to the wishes of the Board. I felt then that participation was working the way it should.”
Why should employees vote for Independents?
“We are a party that wants to represent the whole university. Woman, man, old, young, management, academic staff, international staff, Dutch, temporary or permanent contract.
“We want participation to be accessible to everyone. Participation should not be elitist. Every voice matters, no matter how many titles you have in front of your name.”
A personal question, to end with. What is your favorite place on the campus?
“Great question! I work as a program manager at MindLabs and my workplace is the Spoorzone. That’s also my favorite campus spot. It feels a little crazy because it’s off campus, but I’m a big fan of the railway zone. We now operate as MindLabs from the Deprez Building; in the summer, we will move to a very nice new building. Next to the LocHal, and just as beautiful. A beautiful building at the station, a great showcase for Tilburg University. Soon, everyone who arrives there will see that Tilburg is a university city, instead of a city with a university.”
Translated by Language Center, Riet Bettonviel