A sincere call for change
Executive Board (College van Bestuur)
Dear members of the Executive Board (CvB),
We hope this email finds you and yours well and in good health.
Throughout this academic year a number of temporary and early career academics have come together to campaign for improved working conditions at several universities. This group has come together as 0.7 (zeropointseven) and CasualAcademy to highlight the precarious nature of our professional life in the institution. We are joined in our efforts by WOinActie. Following CasualLeiden’s incendiary letter directed to the university board of Leiden university, we present to you the following call for change, a call that we pose to all universities this fall.
In the time since the creation of our campaign, we have held public meetings, participated in demonstrations, and have created a network of employees in precarious positions. We have been overwhelmed by responses of like-minded colleagues – both temporary and permanent – as well as by students. It is clear that there is considerable frustration and disquiet in the university regarding issues of structural temporary contracts, systemic overwork, and precarious working conditions, Utrecht University being one of the most dire.
To be sure, these issues are not new and have preoccupied the leadership of the university for many years. They are also made apparent by many reports. The latest CAO, however, did not offer anything for those in the most precarious positions, except a promise from the universities to address these problems in the local negotiation committees. However, we have seen the effects of the delay in solving these problems up close. Many of our colleagues got burnt-out, or chose to end their careers as academics because there was no change for such a long time. These pressing problems affect a large and growing section of our academic community: as such, they need to be urgently resolved.
It appears that laws made to avoid structural dependence on short term contracts are systematically used by the institutes and departments to increase the insecurity of temporary workers. Colleagues are dismissed while their jobs are put out to a new hiring process. Others are asked to leave on unpaid breaks, before returning to the same jobs in order to circumvent existing labour laws. There are virtually no avenues for career advancement or professional growth for nearly a third of the labour force.
On top of this, a number of worrying reports about social security and misconduct at the university have come out. Recent cases of misconduct at Radboud University have shown that there is a lack of clear procedures for reporting misconduct as well as for the universities replying to misconduct. For employees and students, it is unclear what steps the university is taking to address these issues. There has been no response that reflects the urgency and seriousness of the problem.
We present you with a series of demands, which we believe will go a long way to resolve the situation. It is our view that the CvB should:
- End casualization by making the appointments of all staff performing structural work permanent.
- Create progressive career paths, and invest time and resources for tailormade professional growth, for all staff.
- Provide full transparency about workload calculations and take concrete steps against structural overwork.
- Structural underfunding of academia can no longer trickle down to subject academics on temporary contracts to exploitative working conditions. If universities fail to negotiate apt finances for education, they should choose for radical changes in educational programs. (less money means less fte means less teaching hours)
- Ensure a safe working environment by adequate procedures for reporting misconduct and an ombudsperson or other independent organ with a mandate to investigate and give advice.
In short, we demand dignity and respect at work for all.
We demand that the CvB writes a proposal to address these issues, with clear and specific targets, proposals and deadlines. If the CVB fails to come up with a plan of action before our countdown clock expires (Countdown (zeropointseven.nl)) on the 20th of december, we will enter a trajectory of escalation. This time around our activism will not be ludic but worried, it will not be constructive but disruptive.There are many possibilities for collective action that would add pressure to our demands, but we hope this letter will be received by the CvB as a genuine attempt to avoid such a development in the calendar year ahead. However, it is clear to us that these issues need to be resolved urgently –in the name of the present well-being and professional future of academia.
Given the scale of this problem and its long-standing nature, we expect to receive a response from the CvB in the shortest delay. We sincerely hope that the CvB will do everything in its power to start a direct communication and negotiation with Casual Academy and 0.7, and address these issues by the start of the next academic term. In the interest of transparency towards the academic community, we also make this letter public and encourage colleagues across the institution to endorse our demands.
We look forward to hearing from you.
0.7 & Casual Academy
 Koens, L., A. Vennekens, R. Hofman, N. van den Broek-Honingh en J. de Jonge (2018). Balans van de wetenschap 2018. Den Haag: Rathenau Instituut.
 Jerak-Zuiderent, S., Brenninkmeijer, J., M’charek, A., Pols, J., Goede wetenschap: Een visie van binnenuit , 6 september 2021.