Delta-columnist Bob van Vliet.
Bob van Vliet: "So far reaching that I would have appreciated it if we had all been involved in a substantive and open discussion on the subject before the decision was taken to go for one particular option." (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

A ‘consultation round’ on a far reaching decision that seems to have already been taken, is a missed opportunity, says Bob van Vliet. He detects resignation and cynicism.

Lees in het Nederlands

TU Delft wants to grow significantly. That is to say, the Executive Board has decided that this is a good idea. Deans and directors appear to agree. I think that it is a missed opportunity that the process around this decision is so top-down.

Growing to the target of 40,000 students is impossible within Delft itself. This is only possible by expanding to Rotterdam and The Hague. The plan includes moving entire degree programmes. Whether and how this will be done will not only affect the future of TU Delft as an institute, but will also have far reaching personal effects on everyone involved.

So far reaching that I would have appreciated it if we had all been involved in a substantive and open discussion on the subject before the decision was taken to go for one particular option. Now, there is only a short ‘consultation round’ on a decision that, in broad lines, appears to have been taken. Initially, they weren’t even going to publish the advisory report on which that decision is based. You had to know the right people to get someone to forward it to you. Even Delta had to get hold of it through the grapevine. Without its reporting we would not have known which other options had been considered (and which options hadn’t).

Yesterday, the report got published after all, in a newsletter to employees. It appears that this required substantial pressure from the works council, amongst others. But a public discussion is still not part of the process. According to the newsletter, when you have questions or want to give your opinion, you will have to take that up with your manager.

A political issue is subject to a more democratic process

Without Delta, the representatives of the people of Delft would also not have been consulted. The Municipal Council was not amused. And Lieke van Rossum of the Socialist Party (SP) astutely noted that she hadn’t seen any support or citations for the central claim that society is ‘screaming out for engineers’. Industry may be. But that is not the same thing. And at the moment, society is more concerned with shortages in nursing staff, teachers, conductors, and fitters.

But the new plans do require public money. In fact, the advisory committee stated that ‘substantial additional financing’ is an absolute necessity. This makes this a political issue. One for which a more democratic process would have been appropriate – based on publicly available material and starting with an open-ended question.

This would also have been good from a pedagogical perspective. If we want to educate our students beyond only being capable engineers, but also to be critical citizens, the best way to do this is to set a good example.

The Advisory Committee could at least have been asked to present its analysis, exploration, and advice publicly when they offered it to the Executive Board. This is the normal procedure when an advisory committee offers a report to the Government. The interval between the presentation and the response of the Government creates the space for a truly open debate in which one approach has not been pre-selected. Instead of a decision that follows a public debate, it is now the other way around.

I see that for many people around me, the effect of this approach on them is resignation, frustration, or cynicism. The opposite of critical engagement. A pity.

Bob van Vliet is a lecturer at the 3mE Faculty and is specialised in design education. Reactions are welcome via B.vanVliet@tudelft.nl