(This article is translated from Dutch. The original version is here)
International Studies has about twenty tutors, most of them working full-time or almost full-time.
Permanent contracts are usually given to teachers who also do research (in the Dutch system: UD and UHD positions). The university wants to lower the number of permanent positions for people who only teach. The teaching staff at Internation Studies disagree.
Temporal positions mean uncertainty, and this “takes an unacceptable toll” on them, the teachers write in a letter that is signed by 71 people. It's also detrimental to the stability and quality of the program, because high staff turnover increases work pressure.
In addition, job insecurity hurts the career perspectives of those involved. “It is now clear that only structural change will make it possible to resolve the issues our program and its staff face”, the letter states.
Job insecurity is especially problematic for the teaching staff, because many of them are at a point in their lives where they want to buy a house and start a familiy. For those from outside the European Union – by its nature, International Studies has a couple of them on the team – even more depends on their positions at Leiden University.
“If they don't get a new contract, they have to go back to their own continents”, Dr. Judith Naeff says. She was one of the people who composed the letter. “For them, making choices about buying a house, starting a relationship or having children, are especially difficult. If the university wants to be inclusive, and hire people from outside the EU, it should also create a situation where they can dare to take that step.”
Naeff also points out that using temporary staff creates more work for the entire staff. The temporary workers are in a competition with eachother, in the hopes of getting a permanent position. They will not admit to stress or burn-out, because that might hurt their chances. And having to show new team members the ropes again and again because of the high turnover, means more work for the people in permanent positions, too.
The high turnover also means knowledge is lost. “People build up expertise in two or three years, and we toss all that out the window again and again. Staff feels exploited and discarded, even though they are doing their jobs quite well.” For the students, having different teachers all the time is less than ideal.
“Several reports have been written about the negative aspects of flexibilization the job market”, Naeff says. “It makes employees more vulnerable, as the current crisis shows. Going along with that trend is the opposite of being a good employer.”
In 2108 there was a similar letter, then adressed to the board of the Faculty of Humanities and the board of the study. These two support the teachers' wishes, but claim their hands are tied by university-wide policies. The have been some quick fixes, such as sending people away after two years, and then re-hiring them after six months. “This is a mere band-aid, and not a structural solution”, Naeff says. They hope adressing the university board instead, will lead to such a solution.
So, will it? “The board wants to study the letter first, and speak to all those involved, before it can give a reaction on its content”, university spokeswoman Caroline van Overbeeke says.