By Tamar Bot
— This week, all AUC students can give their vote for the Central Student Council (CSR) at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). There is at least one familiar name on one of the lists this year: third-year student Bram Jaarsma is running for the party De Decentralen, and believes their programme is in the full interest of AUC students.
As the name implies, the main aim of De Decentralen is to decentralize the governing structure at the UvA by giving the separate faculties more autonomous power. Right now, AUC is not a faculty, but an independent institution under the UvA and the VU. De Decentralen want to give AUC more status as a separate faculty, and aim to decrease central politics at large, giving students and staff in separate branches of the university the possibility to follow their own policies.
The engagement of AUC students with the CSR elections generally is pretty low, according to Jaarsma. “Most AUC students are traditionally very uninvolved with central university politics, both at the UvA and the VU,” he said. As the elections for AUC’s own Student Council and Student Association are running in the same period, the abundance of voting opportunities likely takes away attention from the CSR elections. But why should we care?
“A lot of UvA policy has a direct impact on AUC,” Jaarsma explained. The UvA and the VU have mutual as well as separate responsibilities in terms of their governing tasks for AUC; the UvA is bedrijfsvoerder, meaning they are primarily concerned with organization and finance, and the VU is penvoerder, taking care of a.o. accreditation and representation.
Jaarsma’s involvement with the elections is symbolic: he is 14th on the list, and hence chances are slim he will get an actual seat in the council, which is made up of seven elected members and seven representatives of all faculties. His name is on the list to create awareness and reach out to students at AUC. “I’m also directly endorsing this party, because I think they have the interest of AUC at heart,” he said.
A former Student Council member himself, Jaarsma has considerable experience with university politics. “At AUC, lines between student representatives and management are rather short, and hence rather effective,” he said, “however, most things are done through consensual ways, and we lack actual rights.” The Student Council does not have approval right for the AUC budget, for example, a right that De Decentralen want to give all faculty councils, including AUC’s.
Many practical regulations are imposed from a central level as well. AUC’s semester structure, for instance, is based on the central 8-8-4 system of the UvA and the VU. According to Jaarsma, this makes it very difficult to enforce a reading week, which has been a topic of debate amongst students and staff ever since AUC’s establishment.
Another example of a central policy affecting AUC is the uniformity of the catering system. Led by Eurest, all UvA faculties have the same catering system. Decentralizing this would allow different faculties to have different systems, something which is very beneficial for AUC students, as some of them are trying to set up a student-run catering system since early this year.
One of the other main objectives of De Decentralen is to create formal outlets for staff representation at AUC. Currently, students are represented by students in the Student Council, but staff isn’t in any formal way. “However,” said Jaarsma, “staff makes up the institute just as much as students do.” According to both Jaarsma and Daan Doeleman, who occupies the third place on the list of De Decentralen, it is extremely problematic that AUC staff is not represented formally, which is the case for all other UvA employees. “This is a huge topic within the [core] faculty,” said Jaarsma.
Ideally, De Decentralen want to try and make AUC a separate faculty, meaning an AUC Student Council member would also get a seat in the CSR. However, were this to happen, the current Academic Standards and Procedures would have to be adjusted: right now, elected student representatives at AUC are not allowed to reduce their course load. Having a seat in the CSR requires too much commitment to combine it with four courses. “If you’re in a Student Council at another faculty, it’s not uncommon to take a year off,” said Doeleman.
This policy is problematic, according to De Decentralen, particularly because it is in direct contrast with the law of higher education (Wet op het hoger onderwijs en wetenschappelijk onderzoek or WHW in Dutch), which states it is the institute’s responsibility to allow elected members to be student representatives. Because AUC holds an experimental status, its Academic Standards and Procedures may deviate from this law. Jaarsma and Doeleman expressed concern over the effect this has on student representation at AUC, and said that changing this policy would allow students to become more engaged with university politics.
De Decentralen simply want to give AUC more autonomy; it would still be up to AUC management, staff, and student representation to actually change their policies. However, considering the possible change of AUC’s position within UvA’s governance structure, this might be the right time. “There is a whole wealth of student politics happening that affects the personal lives of AUC students, and you can have a say in it,” Jaarsma said.
The CSR election period runs from Monday May 9th until Friday May 13th, and works through an online voting form, to be found at stem.uva.nl and your personal Blackboard homepage.