The first wave of switch-work is over. A second wave – the preparations for an alternative start of the year in September – is inexorably rolling towards us. Everyone needs some time off. But I find it difficult to look forward to my vacation. It feels strange to go and sit around doing nothing for a few weeks, or to work in the garden, while the necessity of converting yet another round of courses and events hangs over us like the sword of Damocles.
At the same time, I feel a stronger need for a break than usual. My work has never felt so much like a job with a boss. Whereas in the past I could imagine myself an autonomous professional, now there are suddenly all kinds of decisions and instructions from higher up that I just have to obey.
For example, a schedule with working hours from before eight in the morning to after eight in the evening suddenly appeared. My lectures have switched days. Having those lectures on certain days was crucial to the rhythm of assignments and deadlines of the course. That will have to be reconsidered now.
Of course, I understand that decisions about virus measures have to be taken quickly and centrally. But things didn’t always move all that quickly. And for centrally-taken decisions, it’s especially important to provide clear justification. Our management likes to speak in terms of the ‘TU Delft community’. But daily practice often falls short of that ideal.
Not a good example for an institution that wants to educate critical, socially conscious engineers
The answer to widespread concern about invasive online proctoring was short, technocratic, and dismissive. Not a good example for an institution that wants to educate critical, socially conscious engineers.
The fact that PhD students at TU Delft don’t have to count on an extension or compensation for delays was hardly published at all. The only public announcement of this decision was hidden in a video report of one of the established taskforces, to which I think the only link was in a small newsletter article. I hope PhD candidates themselves were more properly informed about this. But to not see such decisions publicly announced and argued, doesn’t give me strong feeling of ‘community’.
Those taskforces already contributed to my impression of working at a commercial corporation instead of teaching at a university. They reported on their work in the form of polished videos very light on actual content. And they appear mostly made up of management. I say ‘appear’, because it requires a lot of work to figure out who the members actually are. The announcement only contains names, no titles or positions. Let alone justification or contact details.
During a crisis, power structures that usually remain implicit and invisible stand out more clearly.
Anyhow. Vacation. Without any waves, I hope.
I’ll be in Drenthe, dreaming of a democratic university.
Bob van Vliet is a teacher at the Faculty of 3mE. Before, he was a teacher at Industrial Design Engineering and Architecture and the Built Environment.