A novice representative lost in translation
The term of this University Council is nearing its end. Time to reflect on how the year has gone by, both as a first-time student representative on the Council, but also as the first-ever non-Dutch speaking student representative on the University Council.
Having personally never sat on any co-participation bodies similar to the University Council before, and coming from a brand-new student party, my job as a student representative seemed daunting at first - to put it mildly! I’ve, on several occasions during my term, been overwhelmed by the position’s tasks and responsibilities and I was near to throwing in the towel a couple of times. The amount of procedures to learn, terminology to understand, documents to read, meetings to attend - combined with the workload from my academic career - seemed near impossible to surmount. Yet, it was possible! This was in great thanks to the welcoming and supportive attitude of my fellow council-members, who were willing to explain the great mysteries of co-participation to me or whisper in my ear during meetings if there were things I didn’t understand straight away. I have to especially single out the Chair and Registrar of the Council for praise, as they were always ready and willing to answer my never ending inquiries. All-in-all, while my tasks as a representative seemed unsumatable, the Council as a whole gave me the support I needed as a novice to do the job I was elected to do.
However, there was one issue that represented a challenge throughout my term - and still does. That is the issue of language. This being a university in the Netherlands, the administrative language is of course Dutch, and should stay as such. However, this is also a international university, with a large proportion of its students and staff being non-Dutch speakers. How do you deal with international co-participation, when representatives (like me) don’t speak well enough Dutch? This is a difficult debate with no simple solutions. Yet, the Dutch law on higher education includes the principle of equal co-participation for all students and staff, so a solution had to be found. Even before I got elected, the search for a solution started and when I arrived to the Council, together we formulated a viable solution to the issue. Getting this solution accepted by the Executive Board was a long and frustrating struggle that has not yet come to its final conclusion. But what this struggle has demonstrated to me is that co-participation has the possibility of shaping the future of our university, as long as the students and staff elect truly dedicated and eager representatives to the Council - and that we have the Executive Board which sees the undeniable value in co-participation!