Works Council sounds the alarm over workload: ‘People are faltering’
During the University Council meeting of the Radboud University, members of the Works Council made a statement about the skyrocketing workload. ‘We are receiving more and more signals that people are faltering.’ The executive board indicated that they shared these concerns and will be looking for solutions.
The University Council meeting yesterday afternoon began most unusually as the chair of the Works Council, Ezra Delahaije, took the floor before the usual agenda was completed to make a statement about the workload which university staff has been experiencing during the corona crisis.
This was in response to a letter that the Works Council had recently received from a department of the University. This letter described, among other things, that the workload during the coronavirus crisis is currently so high that teaching is being disrupted. ‘We hear from departments, lecturers, researchers and other staff that they have to cut into teaching, research and other tasks,’ according to Delahije. In the short term, he called on the executive board to develop policy that could provide help to people with temporary contracts, as well as to take a stand on this topic within the VSNU.
Daan Willems, chair of the University Student Council, added that it is a difficult period for lecturers. ‘This also has great implications for the students’ teaching. The workload must be lowered, but the teaching at a university cannot be diminished.’
‘No good way out’
On behalf of the executive board, chair Daniël Wigboldus indicated they shared the concerns of the Works Council. ‘We also observe the workload increasing,’ says Wigboldus. ‘We are all committed to keeping the quality of teaching as high as possible. We tell deans and directors that they must prioritise which tasks should and should not be performed. As the executive board, we declare this to the entire university, but I hope that these conversations are also being held between managers and staff.’
‘We should not work ourselves to death’
That said, Wigboldus emphasised that regarding workload there was no good way out. ‘We all have a responsibility together to choose the least detrimental road forward. Of course, we want to keep the quality of teaching for our students as high as possible, just as with our research. However, we need to do this without working ourselves to death. We shall sometimes have to choose.’
Works Council member Sven Meeder plead for scientists who now must spend extra time teaching, which interferes with their research. ‘They want to know what this means for their chances at receiving a steady job or grants in the future. Will a solution be found for this, possibly after the corona crisis? That could lighten some of the stress of the current workload.’
Rector Han van Krieken responded that the board argues for this topic in The Hague, within the VSNU and the KNAW and in conversations with the NWO. They do so not just for those within education, but for all researchers. ‘We have to give each other some breathing room. The decisions we make now should not have too high a consequence for peoples’ careers. For people following a tenure track, we must look more towards qualitative criteria and not towards the number of articles in top journals. Thankfully, many managers have realised this.’
‘Those who work from home with kids currently have it the toughest’
The board had no clear answer to the question by Maaike Vink of the USR about whether more teaching assistants could be hired. Vice-chair Wilma de Koning said that she could not provide any guarantees on this. According to Van Krieken, it would be no issue financially to hire more assistants. ‘Anyone who requires it can appoint people, however supporting students also need to be instructed. This makes it complicated.’
Vice-chair Wilma de Koning did promise to consider regulations that would make working from home easier, now that work and home life overlap more due to the coronavirus regulations. ‘That’s especially relevant for the group that works with small children from home. They have it the toughest at the moment.’
The workload of the Radboud University staff was already shown to be high in a staff survey held in October and has only risen further during the coronavirus crisis.
In her address during the new year’s speech, Wilma de Koning put on the proverbial hair shirt. ‘We had wanted to do something about the workload, and we failed,’ said the outgoing vice-chair. De Koning did promise that a committee would search for ways to relieve the pressure on the staff in these times of distance learning.