In the last couple of months, the air was abuzz with ‘new élan’ and ‘a new governance culture’. Suddenly, we had a new cabinet, with old faces in new places – places they often didn’t even seem remotely qualified for. Coincidentally, the change-over season for study association boards is also starting. These are almost a microcosm of national pathologies, so unsurprisingly there are a lot of parallels.
One parallel is when it comes to picking faces for those places. The new board, for all intents and purposes, is picked by the old one – usually from the same clique. They keep each-other in those positions. As they admit themselves, they often start off having no idea of what they are doing, as I have complained about before. You’ll find nice spew-your-drink-out lines in their policies pertaining to, e.g., ‘gaining more financial knowledge’ – which you’d hope they had before they signed on the dotted line. On the other hand, I’ve seen competent individuals being passed on, sometimes multiple times.
Furthermore, as some ministers also know, doing a stint in government is a nice step to other lucrative positions. Board members know this too, often ending up in what amounts to university sponsored lobbying positions, like student assessor, member of the faculty council, etcetera. Here too, frequently the same people; since the student members of the council pick the student assessor, and they themselves frequently run unopposed. The faculty even lists board ‘experience’ as a plus! Eventually they also hope to use all this as a step up for after their studies – CV padding – usually arguing that this ‘shows experience’. (I’d press F to doubt.)
There are, however, some problems unique to study associations. They have lost their vision, focusing most of their attention on social activities; at times forgetting what they were established for. Some don’t even have education in their main policy goals! They don’t have to be a replacement for associations actually focused on those things; they are there to facilitate and support their members during their studies. High board turnover doesn’t help with any of this either, nor does burning money on ‘board teambuilding activities’ (are you kidding me‽), constitution drinks, and clothing allowances (using your association to print souvenirs?). Lack of steady hands at the tiller means no long term vision, and it precludes experienced direction.
Not all is lost though. The university could implement ‘lobbying rules’; prioritizing those who haven’t served on association boards for student-filled positions, giving others a chance to get in (although this only helps if someone else actually applies!). Full-time boards also love to hate on part-timers, but you can’t tell me there aren’t enough members with a modicum of skill who can fill a long term part-time board which can modestly run their association in the background, facilitating their members and providing a platform for everyone to build on. They might just not want to spend an entire full-time year on it.
So, as the final parallel: let’s, like the government, reflect on our governance models and our purpose. I think it’s time for new élan in Twente too.