“We no longer wish to participate in the ranking of people” Ghent University wants to become a place where talent feels valued and nurtured

ghent

“A university is above all a place where everything can be questioned.”

My last two blog posts have been raising some critical questions about the viability and legitimacy of the scientific ‘enterprise’ in neo-liberal times. The Publish AND Perish blog post led to a lot of responses from colleagues within academic but also from the publishing ‘industry,’ including from the CEO of MDPI, Paul Vazquez. Coincidentally, a few weeks later, Ghent University in Belgium released a statement in which the university declared to go  – what I would call – ‘off-the-grid’ of commodification, marketization and economic globalization by turning towards, autonomy, (local) relevance, responsibility towards people and, hopefully planet as well, by creating spaces for transdisciplinarity, boundary-crossing and collaborative action (perhaps I am filtering the statement using my own lens – apologies if I do so). Below some excerpts form the statement which can be found here as well: Ghent University’s New Pathway

Here is the message from Ghent’s Vice Chancellor Rik van de Walle

‘We are transforming our university into a place where talent once again feels valued and nurtured’

(17-12-2018)

Our university should once again belong to the academics, rather than the bureaucracy, writes the rector of Ghent University, Rik Van de Walle.

Ghent University is deliberately choosing to step out of the rat race between individuals, departments and universities. We no longer wish to participate in the ranking of people.

It is a common complaint among academic staff that the mountain of paperwork, the cumbersome procedures and the administrative burden have grown to proportions that are barely controllable. Furthermore, the academic staff is increasingly put under pressure to count publications, citations and doctorates, on the basis of which funds are being allocated. The intense competition for funding often prevails over any possible collaboration across the boundaries of research groups, faculties and – why not – universities. With a new evaluation policy, Ghent University wants to address these concerns and at the same time breathe new life into its career guidance policy. Thus, the university can again become a place where talent feels valued and nurtured. We are transforming our university into a place where talent once again feels valued and nurtured.
With the new career and evaluation model for professorial staff, Ghent University is opening new horizons for Flanders. The main idea is that the academy will once again belong to the academics rather than the bureaucracy. No more procedures and processes with always the same templates, metrics and criteria which lump everyone together.
We opt for a radically new model: those who perform well will be promoted, with a minimum of accountability and administrative effort and a maximum of freedom and responsibility. The quality of the individual human capital is given priority: talent must be nurtured and feel valued.
This marks the end of the personalized objectives, the annual job descriptions and the high number of evaluation documents and activity reports. Instead, the new approach is based on collaboration, collegiality and teamwork. All staff members will make commitments about how they can contribute to the objectives of the department, the education programmes, the faculty and the university.
The evaluations will be greatly simplified and from now on only take place every five years instead of every two or four years. This should create an ‘evaluation break’. 

 

We opt for a radically new model: those who perform well will be promoted, with a minimum of accountability and administrative effort and a maximum of freedom and responsibility. At the same time, we want to pay more attention to well-being at work: the evaluations of the supervisors will explicitly take into account the way in which they manage and coach their staff. The model must provide a response to the complaint of many young professors that quantitative parameters are predominant in the evaluation process. The well-known and overwhelming ‘publication pressure’ is the most prominent exponent of this. Ghent University is deliberately choosing to step out of the rat race between individuals, departments and universities. We no longer wish to participate in the ranking of people.

Through this model, we are expressly taking up our responsibility. In the political debate on the funding of universities and research applications, a constant argument is that we want to move away from purely competitive thinking that leaves too little room for disruptive ideas. The reply of the policy makers is of course that we must first do this within the university itself. This is a clear step in that direction, and it also shows our efforts to put our own house in order.
With this cultural shift, Ghent University is taking the lead in Flanders, and we are proud of it. It is an initiative that is clearly in accordance with our motto: ‘Dare to Think’. Even more so, we dare to do it as well.
A university is above all a place where everything can be questioned.
Where opinions, procedures and habits are challenged. Where there is no place for rigidity.

 

I am absolutely convinced that in a few years’ time we will see that this new approach has benefited the overall quality of our university and its people.

Rik Van de Walle, rector.

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Going to college with sustainability in mind – but where? Green-league rankings

A few months ago I posted this item on finding a sustainability-minded college/university. Perhaps the creation of so-called “sustainability rankings” or “green-league tables” might help prospective students find a university or college that operates with the well-being of the Planet in mind. Obviously rankings have there shortcomings but let me share this link to the UK-based green-league table with you for you to explore and scrutinize: http://www.topuniversities.com/student-survival/student-life/green-universities-higher-education-and-environmental-sustainability What is quite novel is that the creators have included examplary case-studies representing, what they consider, sustainability-oriented practices.

Anyway – here’s the original post (if you want to see some of the suggestions made, you can retreive the comments to the original post which you find in the blog’s archive):

Today I received an interesting new years message from Rolf Jucker from the CoDes project:

Dear All

I hope you have had a very good start to 2012 and wish you all the very best for it!

I have a question regarding tertiary education for my daughter. She is currently finishing her IB at the Mahindra United World College of India and she is looking around for suitable colleges to maybe go to after a gap year.

We have discussed it at length over Christmas and we find it very, very difficult to suggest anything suitable.

She has had a very special educational experience at Mahindra College and she doesn’t really want to study at a conventional university (be it as prestigious as it might be) where we have all the known problems David Orr has so succinctly spelled out years ago: i.e. highly intelligent lecturers and students doing high status degrees, but with scant respect for sustainability, for the consequences of the careers they are aspiring to, etc.

So she is looking for a college where students and staff are committed to actually practising sustainability, not just in the studies, but also in the way that they live together, act, etc. (be it through regular work at an attached farm or in the community, through the way they prepare and cook food, the way they interact with each other and staff, they way the campus is run and kept, etc. etc.).

Her interests lie in Environmental Systems Studies, Biology, and languages (particularly Spanish) and she is wondering whether first a liberal arts degree might be a good idea.

My question now is (since there is no way to find stuff like that over the internet: either you personally know about it and can vouch for it, or it’s impossible to assess):

Do you know of any colleges, degree schemes etc. which might fit this bill? They can be in the US, the UK, mainland Europe, India, Australia, wherever.

I can’t really think of any examples other than maybe Schumacher College (but that is only MA /MSc level, not BA, or is it?) or Hartland Small School (but that’s not exactly tertiary …).

I would be very, very grateful indeed for any suggestions.

With many thanks in advance and best wishes Rolf

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Here’s what my immediate response was:

Thanks Rolf!

What a wonderful message/question. Not an easy one… Some come to mind: The Peace University or U of the Peace in Costa Rica, Evergreen College, Prescott College en Middelbury College in the US, but let me think a little more.

I would like to use your message on my blog… To see how people from across the world respond to this question. With two children (18, 15) myself I am also interested in finding out.

Would that be alright?

Wageningen is nice, small, very international, sustainability-oriented, etc. but is still not what you two seem to be looking for.

All the best,

Arjen

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If you have any ideas – then please let me/us know!