The days - long by Dutch standards - are necessary because the covid pandemic leaves only limited capacity for the university buildings: the students have to be spread out both in space and in time. The earlier time slots suggested by the government were from 11:00 to 15:00 and again from 20:00, because this would keep students out of rush hour public transport. These are now off the table, leaving the university more time for classes. "These will be a mix from digital and on-campus education. To give as many face-to-face classes as possible, the university will open up for more hours than usual", university board member Hester Bijl announced this Monday, during a meeting with the university council.
"This way, we will make maximum use of the limited space in our buildings.The Dutch 1.5 meter rules will apply everywhere, of course. We will have to take care that hallways and access point are safe."
There will be two time slots, Bijl explained. "One group of students comes at 8:30, and the next one arrives at 9:00. By spreading them, there will be less people in the doorways and hallways, Classes will be in blocks of about four hours, with a change of teachers afte two hours. The students stay in the classroom, and have two two-hour classes."
"After every four-hour block, there is a cleaning session. The evening block is from 17:15 to 21:15. We will not use force to make people teach in the evenings. We ask study programmes to see which teachers can and want to teach during a particular time slot." Bijl said. She expects the evening time slots to be used less intensively. That's why there's half an hour shift there, to prevent people from ending even later in the evenings.
There is a lot of pressure on the labs at the Science faculty, Bijl said. "There, we will see if we can be a bit more flexible in the time slots. The good news is that the hallways are relatively wide there. According to Bijl faculties are working "very hard" on scheduling right now, prioritizing the first-year students. "Classes that are hard to move online, such as laboratory experiments, also get priority."
Education has the priority, but that doesn't mean that all staff can return to their offices. "Some people are getting quite distressed at home, but they aren't allowed to return to work", council member Elizabeth den Boer said. "Their boss just tells them 'no'. The rules are too rigid."
Is Leiden too strict?
Den Boer works at the Faculty of Governance of Global Affairs, where she feels more is possible. The idea is to keep 1.5 meter distance. In the buildings in The Hague, we're keeping closer to twenty."
"We get these signals from the faculties as well", rector magnificus Carel Stolker replied. "Is Leiden too strict? Stricter than other universities? But we are just following the rules, as we are required to. Public health comes first. If, however, at some places more is possible, be sure to tell the faculty board, and contact us only if you can't get through." He pointed out that there are also staff member who are very wary of returning to their offices.
At the same council meeting, the university board also gave some information about possible prolongation of contracts of postdocs and PhD students whose research was troubled by the covid crisis. There is an emergency fund, but it's not too big, meaning it will be reserved for "grave cases" only, rector Carel Stolker explained. The faculties will present these grave cases later. "But who decides what's grave or not?" council member Bart van der Steen wanted to know.
"This is not a category that with strict definitions", Stolker replied. "You cannot measure graveness, but you can measure the amount of time that is lost. We will have to pick out the right cases, and speak with the faculties on how to do this." The council and the university board will continue talks about these funds in August.