[Works Council elections] Menno Blaauw: ‘You must be prepared to play politics’

TU Delft staff may vote in the Works Council elections on 3 and 4 November. But who to vote for? The nominees introduce themselves in this series. Part 2: Menno Blaauw.

Menno Blaauw: "Getting things done and then thinking 'now the TU is a bit better again' is the fuel I'm running on.”

His parents sent him to a school that was churning out critical pupils. Pupils that ask pointed but constructive questions and can be difficult for teachers, but it is exactly this approach that he is adopting for his work for the Works Council. “You need to know what questions to ask and how to present something,” says Menno Blaauw, candidate and current Works Council member for Democratic Policy. With 25 years of various committees and nine years of Works Council behind him, Blaauw has been tried and tested in terms of employee participation. Yet, he is far from jaded. “It is hugely satisfying to see my ‘babies’ become reality at TU Delft.” 

 Why are you standing as a candidate for the Works Council?
“I ended up in the Works Council nine years ago when I felt that the annual R&D cycle was headed the wrong way. The then Rector Magnificus Karel Luyben was very charmed by the Shell model in which staff were ranked in comparison to each other rather than being evaluated on the agreements made. Fortunately, we managed to prevent that. We also overhauled the special leave rule which did not take modern relationships into account. So there are always new things that I want to put my efforts into, be they major issues like these or barely noticeable tiny changes. As a Works Council member you must be prepared to play politics. If there is an issue on the work floor, how you bring it to the table, who you talk to and what you say has an enormous impact. Playing this game, getting things done and then being able to see that TU Delft is a little bit better is what drives me.”

There are always new things to deal with, you say. Where do you want to put your efforts in the next few years?
“Sustainability, and in particular reducing the CO2 emissions. This is an endless battle for me. It is the red thread that weaves its way through all my efforts both at TU Delft and in my personal life. I believe that TU Delft should do more to reduce emissions, but sometimes TU Delft is better at starting things than at stopping things. Another major issue is the tenure-track system. It is hostile to women, strongly competitive and has the contrary effect if you want to retain talent. The system needs to be fundamentally modified and this will have far-reaching implications. I want to make sure that the new system will really bring us forward. Further, to complete the circle, I will also keep a sharp eye on the R&D cycle. The new cycle will put greater emphasis on employees’ career paths in the light of what TU Delft needs in the future. It’s a good development, but can still be much improved. Just take the software that is used for the cycle. This was purchased in a tender, has been improved over the years and is still only mediocre. This really has to change.”

You are representing the Democratic Policy party. What does the party stand for?
“It’s probably easiest to describe Democratic Policy as a ‘mish-mash’ party as we are not linked to a trade union. I just collected the campaigning texts from my co-candidates and they show a mix of personal priorities and communal goals. What we have in common? Diversity, respect for all kinds of employees, and greater collaboration among the faculties. They all consider these hugely important issues.”

What do you think is the greatest challenge to employee participation at TU Delft?
“Keeping in touch with the constituency and in particular with PhD candidates. We have worked hard over the years to involve PhD candidates more, but without much success. This is a pity as they are an important part of TU Delft. I do understand it though. PhD candidates have a lot to achieve in only four years and naturally are preoccupied with other things. When I was working for my doctorate, I hardly looked beyond my own section even though I had been working on participation since my secondary school years. I hope that in three years’ time we will have a significant number of PhD candidates in the Works Council. Another issue is the scholarship PhD candidates. We also want to represent this group better. In legal terms this is complicated as they  are not TU Delft employees.”

What is your image of an ideal TU Delft?
“My father always said that ‘the better is the enemy of the good’ and TU Delft suffers from this. Always wanting to excel, always wanting to be high on the lists of top universities and so on are leading to a kind of pressure and competition among people that, in my eyes, is not desirable. I would prefer a university that is confident enough to say that it is very good and that that is enough. Another ideal image is a university in which all employees are respected, valued and, in particular, feel safe, whoever they are. They must feel safe enough to say their piece. And safe enough to fill in the employee monitor without having to think about it. Several people have asked us about privacy and anonymity in filling it in. That says enough. And I have heard some tenure trackers say that they were not prepared to fill it in without a permanent position. We need to get rid of that fearfulness.”

You are Quality / Integral Management System Programme Manager at the Reactor Institute. How can you ensure that you know what issues there are at all layers of the work floor?
“My antennae are always alert. I always look at what is not going well and what we could do about it. At lunch breaks for example, I will sit at one table and the next time at another. These are the times when colleagues discuss what they are doing, what they are coming up against and what they would rather see. Corona is making it more difficult to use those antennae and any issues tend to stay in the home working space. Luckily most TU Delft staff know me as ‘Works Council Menno’ and know how to reach me if there’s a problem or they want to bring up something. If you take these on board and act on them, you are doing your Works Council job well.”


News editor Annebelle de Bruijn

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