27.10.2017
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How University of Amsterdam became more democratic

Author: Kyah Smaal, Member of D&D Commission, University of Amsterdam, http://commissiedd.nl/

After the Maagdenhuis occupation in the spring of 2015, action groups, representative councils, the university board and the labour unions agreed that University of Amsterdam (UvA) governance should become more democratic and less centralised.

The Committee on Democratisation and Decentralisation (D&D) was established to advise on how democratisation and decentralisation can solve problems at the University of Amsterdam.

The Committee D&D decided to present three proposals, centred around  democratic organisation, common values and rights for students and staff.

1: An inclusive senate

This ‘new style’ senate would have about sixty members: academic staff (permanent and temporary, including professors), students, PhD’s, deans of the faculties, members of the university board, and support staff. It advises the entire university – boards and councils – on policy, based on the values and goals of the university, it evaluates how policies have worked out in the past, and it mobilizes opinions from the entire university community. As such it becomes a platform for developing a university-shared ‘public opinion’, guarantees inclusivity in discussions, and creates a broader base for the policies of governing institutions.

 2: The charter

Working together, especially when there are different viewpoints, it is important to be able to rely on shared values. The policies of a university should be in accordance with the values a university stands for: an open mind for new and alternative ideas, conscientious development of knowledge, inclusive education and social responsibility. To make these values the explicit foundation of the university, the committee proposes to draft a charter for the University of Amsterdam. This charter should form the basis for evaluating university policy, ideally within the new senate.

3: Principles of governance

Democracy is more than broad deliberation on the basis of shared values; it also requires a new approach to governance — one that grants more influence to students and staff. This can be achieved in a number of ways. The committee has presented three new governance models that may be adopted:

  • The self-organising university: Relatively autonomous units, consisting of staff and students, share a joint responsibility for ensuring (quality of) education and research within their own field. In order to do so, they have their own budget as well as the ability to determine the way their unit is governed and organized.
  • The participatory university: The participatory university is characterised by the installment of councils in which students and staff together govern and decide on what happens on central, faculty, and departmental level. These councils determine broad outlines for policies that will be prepared and implemented by an executive board.
  • The dual university: In the dual university, executives remain in place to make the final decision, but the student and staff councils have a strong controlling and adjusting function. Their roles and rights will be expanded and all necessary facilities provided.

If you would like to share an example of increased student participation in decision-making processes, please contact filip@esu-online.org.

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