Vote Casper

(Link naar de Nederlandse versie van deze post)

Between 15 and 19 May, voting for the new University Council will take place.

I’m candidate for a second term in the council on behalf of the Personnel Faction (#5) and hope to receive enough votes such that I can devote myself for a better working climate at the university.

Below, I shall introduce myself and – more importantly – my motivation to be a candidate and my vision for the university.

Short biography

I’m an associate professor at the Psychometrics & Statistics department at the Faculty of Behavioural and Social sciences and worked in this position since 2009. Before, I was research fellow at the Open University (UK), post-doc at the Groningen Bioinformatics Centre, PhD-student in Mathematical Statistics and undergraduate students at the faculties FEB and FSE. I’ve been a member of the University Council the past two years and before that I spent four years at the Faculty Council.

My research focuses on statistical modelling. Specifically, I develop models to understand dynamic processes in environmental and clinical psychology and models for assessing the effectiveness of educational interventions.

Motivation and vision

For the elections two years ago, I wrote a blog post outlining my motivation and vision. Not much has changed since then: I still believe that the university is not a business but an academic institution and this should be reflected in the way the university is governed. Rather than repeating the motivation of two years ago, I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the areas which have been my key opinions in the past two years and will be again in the next two years.

Policies should be evidence based

Many buzzwords surround the developments around the way teaching is done at this university and, to a lesser extend, around research as well. Flipped classroom, international classrooms, 21st century skills, etc.: there are many new and interesting ideas. Ideas are great and academia should embrace them. However, before such plans are rolled out in a large scale, they should be tested in a small scale pilot setting and validated. Large scale innovations should only take place if they are evidence-based, i.e. have a solid scientific basis.

Similarly, standing policy that has scientifically proven to be not working, should be adapted. This year, I wrote a memorandum (in Dutch) on course evaluations: the correlation between quality of the teacher and score on the evaluation is virtually zero. The current system of evaluating courses is a waste of time and effort and better methods exist to find out how students feel about their education.

It sounds obvious that at a university policy has some scientific basis but I’ve learned that there’s still a lot to improve.

Diversity: we need action, not words

Diversity is a major problem at the RUG. Virtually all European countries do better than the Netherlands with repect to the proportion of professors that is female, and all classical Dutch universities do better than the RUG. This way, valuable talent is lost.

Simply stating the desire to improve and hoping for change is insufficient. Concrete actions are necessary. This not only involves a more balanced gender distribution but also e.g. making sure that talented researchers who wish to work part-time, internationals, and all other get the chance to maximise their potential.

Yantai: No to the current plans

Thanks to the Personnel Faction and Lijst Calimero, the University Council now has the right to consent with respect to the final proposal to start a branch campus in China.

There are potential advantages of a venture in Yantai but there are also many risks – risks for the campus in China, but also risks for the university, its staff and its students, in Groningen. The current plans by the Board are severely insufficient. In my opinion, the plans are too risky and leave too many important questions unanswered.

If the final proposal is similar to the current plans, I will not give my consent.

Improve the student/staff ratio

The best way to improve teaching and research does not lie in carrying out innovative ideas. Invest in more staff per student. According to the VSNU, the ratio has gone from 3.9 students per FTE staff member in 2000 to 5.6 students per FTE in 2010. Bring this ratio back to the level we had around 2000.

This will, obviously, be a boost the quality of teaching. A reduced workload per staff member will also be beneficial for the research output and will increase the quality of work and decrease work pressure, two things that have deteriorated in the past decade. The workload can also be reduced by increasing the support for academic staff.

Too often the Board wants to spend additional money to new, innovative ideas. Don’t. Spend it on the core of the university: teaching and research.

Staff needs private offices

There are many planned moving operations: the Faculty of Law will move to the Oude Boteringestraat, which means that the Faculty of Arts will ‘reshuffle’ in the Harmonie building, and the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences will have to accomodate the loss of teaching facilities at the Bloemstraat.

The cheapest option in relocations is to work with open plan offices (‘kantoortuinen’) or having staff (including (assistant/associate) professors) share their offices. Open plan offices are proven to be inefficient for the type of work a scientist does. Scientists need to be able to concentrate to work on the limits of knowledge. Shared offices and, worse, open plan offices , sound cheaper but will lead to lower academic production and lower work satisfaction. Full-time and permanent scientific staff (including tenure trackers) should be able to get their own office.