‘The reality at the UT is that decisions are not taken democratically’

| Stefano Stramigioli

UT-professor Stefano Stramigioli was working on an article to justify his concerns about ‘how the UT is behaving’, but then he saw the opinion piece of PhD Max Rang, who wants to defend his thesis but hits a wall of ‘administrative nonsense’. Stramigioli decided to respond.

Stefano Stramigioli.

‘When I saw the U-Today article and the courage of Max Rang, I decided to act now in a reply to kick off an important discussion. I am unfortunately losing any trust in working in a real academic institution with proper academic values, in which decisions are taken democratically after proper debates are taking place among people who are actually paid to think, like an academic senate.

Instead, the reality at the UT is that decisions are not taken democratically, but by some people that willingly or not, are only achieving the impression that the very problems they want to solve are solved. Instead they only create new problems as well as frustrations. I will try to support the previous statements with the case of Max Rang, but there are many more cases I will explain in other future reflections.

Everybody would agree that it is absolutely mandatory that PhD candidates are decently treated and their wellbeing is not compromised in any possible way by abuse of power of a promotor or anything else. The role of a promotor is of scientific nature: competence in the evaluation of the quality of the scientific work of a PhD. The ‘solution’ that has been implemented by the UT to ‘ensure’ the wellbeing of a PhD is to force a second promotor who has the function of a ‘guard’.

His/her competence or any understanding or involvement in the research is completely irrelevant. This is not only unethical and – as said by Max Rang – it goes against the very academic integrity for which we should stand. Furthermore, it does not solve the problem and instead only gives credit to somebody for a scientific value of a work they have not been involved with, being ‘a pure guard’. This also sends a wrong message to the involved promotor: his/her own institution does not trust him/her. A copromotor could furthermore be a person who could be intimidated as well and this would not solve at all the problem.

In my opinion there are effective ways to address the original problem without it being purely useless window-dressing. Whenever a PhD candidate would start, a meeting should take place with a person of trust who would make very clear and leave no doubt possible about what values the UT stands for: no compromises about the wellbeing of people. Then it should be made clear that the student could, at any time, get in contact with a person of his/her choice among a set of people who have been carefully screened. In case something is reported to them the issue will be thoroughly investigated and his or her position safeguarded at all costs. In that way, a PhD candidate would have very clear what values the UT stands for (now it is certainly not the case) and would know that if the promotor would not respect them, he or she would have a very clear procedure to make an abuse handled by people he or she could choose. In this way you would not mix the scientific role of a promotor with an ethical check and balance on wellbeing of UT employees.

This is just an example of many, many decisions which are undemocratically taken and forced on us which result in ineffective, and only damaging results. It is time to start a discussion about such issues or the UT will slide further in the ineffective bureaucratic nightmare it is becoming, getting further and further away from the academic values it should follow.'

Stefano Stramigioli

Full Professor for Advanced Robotics

Stay tuned

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.