Casual Leiden met with the Board of Directors (CvB) on Tuesday, 9th November to discuss our demands. These were sent to them last term, alongside our report on casualisation and overwork at Leiden. Before we went in, we were greeted by a crowd of about 30 students and staff who came to show their support and solidarity. We wish, first and foremost, to thank all of those who did so. It made a world of difference.
The fact that the CvB felt it had to agree to a meeting was, in itself, a victory and a testimony to the growing strength of the campaign. The outcome of the meeting, however, was disappointing, although not altogether surprising. The CvB - represented by Hester Bijl, Maarten Ridderbos, Heleen Cocu, and Karin Horsman - announced no concrete steps to address any of our demands and limited themselves to general expressions of concerns. There was no indication that they shared our sense of urgency or that they had put anything concrete in motion to address the crisis faced by casual staff in the institutions.
Throughout the meeting - which ended up lasting the best part of two hours despite the originally planned 45 min - the CvB, and particularly the head of HR, acknowledged our concerns and stated that they were of the opinion that there is a culture across the institution of
Trying to avoid giving permanent contracts at all costs.
Using a frightening variety of loopholes to achieve this goal.
A mistaken idea that, in the long run, temporary contracts are cheaper than permanent ones.
The CvB also claimed that they agree that this state of affairs needs to stop and that it is the most vulnerable in the institution - casual members of staff - who are paying the price of this institutional culture.
However, and rather frustratingly, the CvB claimed repeatedly that although they hold these opinions, they do not have the power to impose the needed changes across the university, and that the institutes and faculties stand in the way of the reforms being implemented.
Our CL delegates repeatedly challenged these claims by pointing out that the university is our employer - not the institutes or the faculties - that HR has the power to refuse to sign off on temporary contracts, and that independently of internal dynamics the CvB is responsible and should lead the institution. They also called on the CvB to put their money where their mouth is. If it is indeed so that they wholeheartedly agree with the points mentioned above, then they should make this clear publicly and issue a statement announcing their commitment to ending the reliance on loopholes and short-term contracts, and announce a new approach to labour relations. The most concrete outcome of the meeting was that the CvB said they were ‘prepared to think about putting out’ such a statement, which they will raise at the next University Council.
Other points of discussion were overwork and the connection between teaching and research. Once again, the CvB limited itself to general statements of intent without concrete proposals, despite the best efforts of the Casual Leiden delegates. The CvB agreed that overwork will need to be addressed by structural reforms such as shortening the academic year or scrapping midterm examinations. However, they failed to provide a timeframe within which their working groups will come up with concrete, implementable policy proposals. They also agreed that Docenten on teaching only contracts should receive adequate ‘development time’ in order to recognise the research necessary for quality teaching. Finally, they also agreed that many docenten should be hired permanently.
In the end, the CvB pushed back against very little that our delegates presented them with, but depicted a situation in which they were powerless in the face of unwilling faculties and institutes. This is, in our view, not good enough - both because the university is responsible for its employees and the labour relations inside the institutions, but also because the CvB was unable to demonstrate any concrete steps being taken to address a situation of insecurity, overwork, and vulnerability experienced by hundreds of colleagues across Leiden. To the Casual Leiden delegates’ insistence that they expected concrete responses to our demands and report, the CvB retorted that it lacked both a ‘good enough overview’ of the reality faced by temporary staff and the central power to impose the needed changes in faculties and institutes.
It seems clear therefore that more action and greater pressure will be necessary to focus the mind of the CvB and accelerate the process of reform. We discussed matters during an open meeting on Thursday 11 November and responded to the CvB with a letter on 22 November 2021. We have attached the letter below for your information. The attachment (bottom right) concerns a document of the Faculty Council of the Faculty of Humanities that we shared with the CvB along with our letter and that can serve as example for other Faculty Councils.
In gratitude for your continued support and, as always, in solidarity,