Looking back at two years in the University Council, and ahead

At Tilburg University, the role of the University Council is to represent the views of students and employees. I have now been serving for one two-year term and will serve for another one from September onwards.

This has not always been fun, believe me, but many people on campus don’t realize how much influence this council can have. And due to a teaching reduction that comes with the appointment I am able to stay a 100% scholar, even though I miss some of the teaching tasks, which is why I always viewed this engagement as temporary.

With our initiative TiU International, we have managed to bring a new perspective to the table, which inspired and resulted in a number of small steps that our university has taken—steps that go in the right direction if you ask us, and we feel broad support for this in the academic community.

For instance, our president and rector have said that they want to take the next step and produce most internal documents in English. One should not underestimate what this means: international employees (one in three academics is non-Dutch) will feel more at home, and slowly but surely we will thereby move towards also having a non-Dutch speaking dean, or non-Dutch speaking heads of departments (are there any at this point?). The underlying idea is that international employees and the diversity they add will help us make better decisions as an institution, at all levels, coming closer to achieving our goals. Why is that? They come from all over the world and have seen what works (and what doesn’t). Their experiences are therefore valuable also for us. And academia, to a large extent, is an international affair, and in the end of the day being internationally connected on all kinds of levels also benefits local, Dutch students and Dutch society.

Related to this, also a new language policy is in the making.

Besides, we have repeatedly argued that we have to change the real estate strategy, and that one-size-fits-all directives like the Tilburg Education Profile are misguided. If you ask me, then slowly but surely also these points are picked up. I find this already very motivating and rewarding.

So far for some examples of smaller steps.

But: we still have to think more about the big issues. To start with, what I’ve realized recently, more than anything else, is that there is actually no shared set of goals on campus (despite there being a strategy, formally). Different faculties have different goals.

And I think that this is actually fine, but needs to be acknowledged (in a revised strategy). So far, we have instead tried to unify, to come up with one strategy for the entire university (cf. the education profile). But we don’t need to have the same specific goals all across campus. Our faculties should strive for academic excellence, but importantly they should come up with their own interpretation of what that means. This includes excellent education.

At the same time, we need to define general principles that foster academic excellence. This could become an important part of our strategy in the end.

These should relate to what universities should be all about: creating and transferring knowledge.

For instance: promotions to full professor have to reflect academic performance, and not that somebody agreed to do an administrative task or has been around for long enough. Or brought in some money.

And there have to be no-go’s. People need to leave after their PhDs, and can only come back after having been offered tenure at an institution at least as good as ours. This is the international standard and ensures the young academics become independent of their former supervisors and also get a different perspective elsewhere. Long research visits can’t provide this.

And, in my view, professors are supposed to engage in both, research and teaching. Both inspire one another. But becoming professor should never be based only on performance in one of the two.

So far my thoughts in-between terms. I really hope we can get to discussing some of the big issues in the two years to come.

This, together with the smaller achievements, motivated me to run for a second time.

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About kleintob

Tobias Klein is an Associate Professor at Tilburg University. He is an economist by training and obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Mannheim, Germany. Before that he visited the University of California at Berkeley Ph.D. program and the Ph.D. program at University College London, respectively for a year. He is passionate about economics, politics, food, and travelling. See http://www.tobiasklein.ws for his professional website.

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