One thing about mankind that has always surprised me with is its ability to create complex social structures, capable of equally distributing duties and responsibilities for the sake of efficiency. This is something we observe in other animal species, such as ants and bees, whose colonies are so efficient and enduring exactly because each member of the community has a specific role, which it fulfills with absolute dedication. To be fair, if you consider that unemployment is not a thing in animal colonies, you might argue that they are even more efficient than human societies in certain aspects: everyone has a purpose, and everyone contributes to the common good, which is already more than most people get. However, as far as the sophistication and refinement of social roles and responsibilities goes, we humans took this organization to the next level. Think about state organization, with powers split into three branches following Montesquieu’s prescriptions: a Parliament to create laws, a government to enforce them, and a court to punish whoever violates them. And the Parliament, which elects the government, is in turn elected by the citizens and is supposed to represent them. And then federal states or regions, provinces, municipalities, districts: a perfect chain of command, the result of centuries of tyrannies, civil wars, revolutions and dictatorships. This concept of dividing authority and responsibility to avoid the suppression of freedom is so embedded in our mind that we decided to implement it even in non-political environments, such as business, the military, and even education.

The University of Amsterdam has a fairly complex structure, for an educational facility: there is the Rector, who together with the Board of Executives makes the most important policy decisions for the whole university; then come the Deans, one for each Faculty, which together with the Faculty Boards make decisions at the Faculty level; then come the Workers’ and Student Councils (both on the Central and the Faculty level), which offer advice and input as to how to improve workers’ and students’ conditions within the university. Then there also is a Senate, formed by representatives from each body, which like other kinds of Senate has the function of creating proposals, which are then passed on to the Rector or the Deans for approval, depending on the issue. But why does a university need such an articulate administration? Well, the thing is a public university receives funds from the state, but it can also receive external funds through partnerships and all sorts of deals. As it often happens when money enters into play, university governance is needed to prevent the university from becoming a business at an expense of the actual education of students. What form such a governance should have, though, is a matter of wide discussion. And just like a country’s government may call its citizens in a referendum when neither the majority nor the opposition can find an agreement, so may a university appeal to its own public – the students and employees.

From November 23rd, the Decentralization and Democratization committee of the University of Amsterdam will launch a referendum to substantially re-shape the athenaeum in a way that better represents its public. There will be three referendary queries submitted to the vote.

The first query involves a charter of values to be implemented by the University, should the motion be approved. The core points of the charter are:

  • connection between university and society,
  • dynamic growth,
  • critical scientific method,
  • universitary community,
  • decentralization,
  • autonomy,
  • participation,
  • reliable administration.

The second motion concerns the approval of a new-style Senate with a redistribution of seats to include more members of workers’ and students’ organizations. In particular, student representatives will have 20 seats under the new Senate.

The third and final query is not a simple yes-or-no issue: it requires to choose between four possible governance models for the University. Each model has been assigned a different color.

The Blue model, for example, simply signifies the current system, with the Executive or Faculty Boards making policy, depending on the jurisdiction, and Student and Workers’ Councils and the Senate serving as advisory institutions.

The Orange model is a slight variation of the Blue model, which increases the possibilities and power for external participation  in policy-making by increasing the rights of the advisory Councils, for example by granting them right of consent or veto power.

The Yellow model, instead, applies a major change by assigning policy-making powers to new Councils made equally of students and employees.

Finally, the Green model advocates a system where Education and Research Committees , committees formed of professors and other UvA employees that develop new courses and programs for education and research, enjoy a relative autonomy from the central or faculty administration and can self-organize as far as the study and research of their field is concerned.

Every UvA student and employee can vote in this referendum, casting one vote for each motion, until the 11th of December, when the polls will close. But how? On the starting day, you will receive a link via the University newsletter in your student e-mail, which will allow you to submit your vote online. Nice and easy.

But will you actually vote?

You see, you might feel this kind of issue is not important enough, but then what happens when something bigger comes up, something that can affect your community, your country, maybe the world? We need to start small, before we can think about changing the world. Making choices for the community we belong to is formative, it makes us more aware and responsible citizens. Yes, voting may take time and effort, but this is the thing: caring about things takes effort. It is easy and alluring to remain apathetic to our surroundings, but then do we really have a right to complain when society fails us? We can’t really expect or feel entitled to anything unless we take action. And voting is really the easiest way. So vote, now that you have an opportunity to really make a difference, to show the students that will come after us that we cared about them too. Make it count.

You can vote by using a link that you should have received in an email. If you haven’t received any email, go to this page to find out if you’re eligible and what to do next.

For more information on the referendum visit this page