MD gets to know the KAN Party
The Maastricht Diplomat recently interviewed Friederike Leppert, on behalf of KAN (Klimaat Actie Netwerk or Climate Action Network) Party. Friederike is one of the party’s two representatives on the University Council as well as one of the authors of a report on the UM 2030 Taskforce. She is in close contact with the diversity and inclusivity office and a member of Fossil Free Maastricht, one of the many organizations associated with KAN.
Being a full-time political activist back in Germany with Fridays for Future, Friederike saw in the KAN Party a new space and opportunity to make a change within Maastricht University.
KAN is a broad network of local climate activism organizations such as Fossil Free Maastricht, Maastricht For Climate, and Precious Plastic Maastricht Party. Both KAN, as a network, and the KAN Party, fight for climate justice. The KAN Party also aims at promoting a more sustainable, inclusive, and responsible future for UM, its students, and staff. Recently, the KAN Party has delivered a report on the UM 2030 Taskforce on sustainability. This task force was set up to lead UM towards a more sustainable future by 2030.
However, according to the KAN Party and its representatives, the current task force is not adequate to really transform UM into a sustainable university. The report has highlighted some of its problematic issues, such as poor goal setting, lack of accountability, and lack of capacity, to really ensure concrete and successful change within the university.
Why did you choose to become part of the KAN Party?
The main motivation for me to join KAN Party was really because I wanted to make a change in the university. Through working together and being part of the same organization, you always also find friends, people who you end up spending a lot of time with, now a lot of time on zoom. It is always an opportunity to find new friends, but my aim was not to be in the University Council and have a good time. My aim is really to make an impact at this university and to change something.
How is UM dealing with sustainability issues? Do you believe there is room for improvement?
There is a lot of room for improvement in the way UM is dealing with sustainability. There is the sustainable 2030 UM Taskforce, which is supposed to organize the transformation of UM into a sustainable university. But unfortunately, this task force is really lacking in capacity and structures. There are also problems in the way the task force is embedded in the university and how it can make decisions and the power that it has. It is also not properly accountable to the University Council and the goal setting is very poor. Improvements have existed, but there have not been that many achievements and I believe it could work a lot better. That is also why we wrote this report. Because we want to start a conversation on how this is going, and we want to change something.
How would you make students more aware of sustainability topics?
What I would ideally like to see is having sustainability implemented into the existing curricula. It is not something that is isolated from everything else that we study, but it is really included in what we do, and you can find it in basically every single field that there is. And that is why it should be included in the current curricula and not be an extra course.
What are the main obstacles limiting UM to become a sustainable university?
Ideally, we would like to just largely engage with the people who already are at this university and getting our expertise on this. Right now, the biggest issue is that there are just not enough resources. And that the task force is not working efficiently. According to the founding document and the definition document, the University Council should see what is going on in the task force twice every year, but this has not happened on a consistent basis since 2018. And we are at the end of 2020, which is rather sad and shows that it does not make me feel like UM is taking this seriously and really wants to become a sustainable institution.
Do you believe that the University Council accurately represents UM students?
I think that a problem of representing students partly definitely comes from relatively low participation rates. Unfortunately, not that many students voted in the elections. In the council, we are both students and staff, but it is a place where we can voice our opinions and give a bit of input. To a large extent, we are also controlling the university and making sure the money goes to the places that we would like it to go to or that the strategy which we are currently working on, the strategy for UM from 2022 to 2026, represents students’ interests. And I also think that it is always difficult to represent or to have every student represented. It will always be difficult, but it would definitely be lovely to have more students vote and more interest in what is going on in the university. At the same time, I get that we all have, you know, just university and our own lives. So maybe university politics, obviously it is also not the priority.
How would you explain the lack of UM students’ participation in university politics?
I think one issue which limits UM students’ participation in university politics is that we do not really have one UM community. Personally, I am from UCM. I identify very strongly with UCM and now being in the University Council also more with UM, but I think it is a lot more of a program and faculty identity and community rather than the one UM community. Especially if you look to the two sides of the river. What I hear from a lot of people who study at FPN or FHML is that information just does not travel over the river. So, I would say that it is missing a bridge and a common community. And that is, for example, something that we, as students, would also like to address and hope for the coming strategy or strategic program for UM. We are trying, as the KAN Party, to increase participation through visibility. We really try to give students the opportunity to see what we, as the KAN Party, are doing on our social media. I think it is also an important thing that you are now engaging with us as student parties and trying to make what is going on a bit more visible also to the UNSA community.
How is the current Corona crisis affecting the party’s initiatives?
The Corona crisis is certainly affecting our initiatives, as many things have been moved online. But there are still in-person protests happening that are organized by KAN organizations such as Maastricht For Climate. Obviously, there are not that many people there anymore, and it is not the same feeling of being at a protest if you have to keep your distance and you have your mask on, and then so on. It is having an impact on our actions, but behind our computer screens, we do not stop. We continue working on the strategic program, getting sustainability into education and networking and just talking also to staff members, to get people together who want to work on this with us and who are happy to support us and to take steps in the right direction with us. I also think that doing activism in a council is a very different kind of activism than going on and organizing protests, in Corona or without Corona. Both forms of activism are important and valuable.
What is the KAN Party working on at the moment? What are your current projects and initiatives?
We recently wrote a report on the UM 2030 Taskforce and the problems that we are seeing within the task force. And this report will be discussed on Wednesday, the 9th of December. We are currently also, still, always trying to meet with staff members online or offline. Always obviously adhering to regulations, but so mostly online to talk about what we are doing, what we want to see. Then we are working together with the ICTS and the library, to implement Ecosia as the main search engine on student computers. We are writing the new strategic program for UM, so for the whole university from 2022, till 2026. This is something I am heavily working on now. We have a few other projects, for example, one regarding housing, one regarding DUO student finance. We are in contact with the diversity and inclusivity office to support them and to also take their methods into the University Council and support the initiatives from the side of the University Council.
Is there continuity between the issues you addressed during the 2020 elections and the party’s current initiatives?
Since the elections, we wrote a manifesto with our aims, which we will not get done within one year, unfortunately. There are a lot of initiatives and it is more the broader vision. Regarding social responsibility, we are regularly talking to the sustainable UM Taskforce and trying to improve its efforts. We are writing a report on this issue, which is one of our goals. One of the goals was setting Ecosia as a default search engine, and we are doing a very great first step with installing that on student computers. And we hope to eventually also continue it on staff computers. Then, for education and for mandatory education on climate change and sustainability, we are working together with the task force and we are talking to different people to see really what we can do. That is also one of the reasons we wrote this report. The same goes for transparency, which we really felt was missing in regard to reporting on sustainability plans because that's where we have the experience. For diversity and inclusivity, we also had a point of decolonizing the curriculum and we already have great expertise for that; we engaged with the diversity and inclusivity office on their action against racism plan. And then I am personally also in the mental health steering group, which means that we are also addressing this topic and having discussions about this in the University Councils. We are really on all forces to hope and work on making this university a little bit better.
Does the KAN Party collaborate with other parties in Maastricht?
I don't know if you heard about the Kick Out Piet protest that was attacked and together with United Students of Maastricht we were talking about this in the University Council. For the strategy, I am working together with all parties in the committee. For housing, we are collaborating with DOPE. I also talked to SHAPE about decolonizing the curriculum. I personally believe that we can make changes together. In the elections, we are competing for votes and hoping that we get the votes to get us in the University Council. But we can only really make changes if we work together. And there is no point in shitting on each other's heads when we, at the end of the day all want very similar things.
Does the KAN Party have a specific, party-related ideology? What are its driving principles and ideas?
KAN represents the task force of the climate action network. We, as the KAN Party, are for climate justice. We are pushing for sustainability. We are pushing for social responsibility in UM and these are our main focus points. There are other things that we do since we think they are important to improve student life, but this is really our core and the things that we would really like to see in our university or in our manifesto. They can really be summarized as social responsibility, education on climate change and sustainability, transparency in the university and diversity and inclusivity, but also wellbeing. We have an aim, and we have a lot of organizations that we effectively also represent as the KAN Party.
What does social responsibility mean for UM students and staff?
Social responsibility for students primarily means being educated. It means knowing what is going on in the world. It is also something we have in our manifesto. Our idea is to ideally have staff having the opportunity to contribute to social initiatives as part of their working hours. It is something that we currently do not have a project on because we already have other things going on and because the workload for staff is very, very high and it is a problem that we hear regularly from staff. For students, it means being aware. It is also related to the way the university acts. So which businesses does the university have procurement agreements with? Which businesses do the university buy things from? Is it local and sustainable businesses or not?
Thank you so much for the interview.
* This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.