Suuz van Bommel and Joost Lamers on Connected, Curious, Caring, and Courageous: "The core values have the potential to speak to people"
The 2027 Strategy lists four core values the university aspires to make good on. Is it succeeding? At the end of their one-year term in participation, the outgoing chairs of student parties SAM and Fractie Front share their appraisal. “The core values can be used to shape ideas and input for the organization.”
Through its core values Connected, Curious, Caring, and Courageous, Tilburg University is working toward a distinctive culture, and even though this set of values is still quite fresh, it should already be having an impact on decision-making. Those engaged in participation should be able to see signs of the university ‘living’ these values at all levels of governance. Whether it is, is something Suuz van Bommel and Joost Lamers are in a position to judge: in the previous academic year, they chaired the two student parties in the University Council, Fractie Front and SAM, respectively. In that capacity, they witnessed up close how decisions are made, and they are the first student representatives to have worked with the core values for a full year: when they took office a year ago, the values were a fait accompli.
Lamers was fine with that because he has endorsed them from the start. “They align well with the values of our party. Caring, for example, is of crucial value to us, as is shown by our pandemic initiative to set up peer-to-peer support groups for students facing mental issues to help each other. That was a worthwhile and successful project.”
Caring and Connected link up seamlessly with the progression toward a culture that values individual achievement as well as social safety and personal development
Suuz van Bommel
Van Bommel, too, has embraced the full package. To her, the values are meaningful and firmly embedded in the organization. “Through these core values, the university shows the identity it wishes to shape. As part of that identity, Caring and Connected link up seamlessly with the progression toward a culture that values individual achievement as well as social safety and personal development. And in a wide-ranging and inevitably somewhat vague Strategy, the core values serve as tangible guidelines. That’s something to fall back on.”
The former chairs have experienced the core values as a useful tool in their participation work. Van Bommel: “All changes the university seeks to make, for example in the Strategy implementation memoranda, are now linked to these values. This in turn encourages the university, in every decision it intends to make, to reflect on how that decision would help us to be the university we want to be. And that offers useful reference points in debates.”
The values hand us the language we can use to engage in dialog with the university at a governance level. One example concerns the debate on whether student housing is a university’s responsibility.
Lamers: “The values hand us the language we can use to engage in dialog with the university at a governance level. One example concerns the debate on whether student housing is a university’s responsibility. If Tilburg University subscribes to the core value of Caring, it cannot ignore student housing. And it hasn’t. A case in point is the university’s meetings with the City of Tilburg, housing cooperatives, and student housing organizations. The university also showed it cares last May when all international students were contacted by phone to warn them about the dire housing situation in Tilburg. That was a lot of work and the university really made an effort to reach out to these students.”
Taking a stand
Lamers and Van Bommel themselves actively used the values to make a point. When it became apparent that the Profile Fund proposal entailed a reduction of grants for student representatives, Van Bommel called attention to the value of Connected. “Compared to ten years ago, interest in engaging in participation has waned considerably. It has become increasingly difficult to find students who are prepared to become involved in participation.” If as an academic community we want students to not merely pass their exams but to feel connected with the university, we should not make such a connection less appealing, she argued. Her argument did not fall on deaf ears: “Luckily, the Executive Board proved sensitive to the stand we took and amended its proposal.” And Lamers on one occasion cited the value of Courageous. He did so in support of his party’s proposal to award credits to exchange students. “We pointed out the importance of students having the courage to venture beyond their own universities.”
To truly come alive, the four core values must be integrated in all decision-making processes. They must also, more than has so far been the case, be embraced by students.
On balance, the two former student representatives give a positive appraisal of the university’s core values. To them, the added value is clear, yet at the same time they are only too aware that this is just the beginning. To truly come alive, the four core values must be integrated in all decision-making processes. They must also, more than has so far been the case, be embraced by students. Lamers reckons that 95 percent of students are unfamiliar with the values, and while he appreciates that this topic is not top of his fellow students’ list of interests, he would be happy to also see students who are less involved in university affairs make more use of the values. “The core values can be used to shape ideas and input for the organization.” And Van Bommel believes that the university could do more to draw students’ attention to the values, for example during TOP Week. She recognizes that during their introduction her fellow students are taken up with many other things. “Still, wouldn’t it be good if the values were briefly and informally presented to students? The values certainly merit that kind of attention.”
Read more about the core values:
Henk Witte on being Connected, Curious, Caring, and Courageous: “Values take time to mature”11th May 2023
Tilburg University is anchored in four values: Connected, Curious, Caring, and Courageous. These values mesh with the zeitgeist, Henk Witte believes, and it is being Courageous that truly captures the imagination. “I heard things like ‘Hey, that’s new. We’re so used to being careful.’”
'Weaving Minds & Characters' Strategy Towards 2027
Stay up-to-date on all strategic developments and activities leading up to our 100th anniversary.