‘Esteemed Executive Board: Speak out against the insinuations against academics’

28 Mar 2019

OPEN LETTER - The university and its major core values are under attack following the victory by the Forum voor Democratie party in the Provincial Council elections. Twelve Nijmegen scientists call on the Executive Board of Radboud University to stand up for the academic freedom and independence of its academics.

Dutch universities are under pressure. Last year the government announced further cuts in higher education budgets. Last December, 2,000 higher education teachers and students staged a protest in The Hague against these Cabinet plans. And just last week, 40,000 teachers from all levels of education (including colleagues from Radboud University) held a strike to protest against the increasing pressure of work and for more investment in education. Recent research by the trade union FNV showed that two thirds of staff in universities experiences pressure of work that is high to extremely high.

However, since the electoral success by Thierry Baudet and his Forum voor Democratie party last week, the university is also being challenged from another direction. In his victory speech, Baudet targets not only ethnic and cultural minorities, but also the academic world. According to Baudet, European or Dutch culture is being ‘destroyed’ by the very people who should be protecting it. And in his opinion, they include academics: “We are being undermined by our universities, our journalists, by the people who receive our arts subsidies and who design our buildings.”

For anyone who has been following Baudet for any length of time, these remarks come as no surprise. The philosophy of law graduate has been complaining for a long time about what he believes is ‘left-wing indoctrination’ in Dutch schools and universities. In the run-up to the elections, he stated his intention of pursuing a cultural transformation in our cultural and educational institutions: “We must very gradually make sure we get our own people behind all those little desks.”

‘It is unclear what precisely Baudet is basing his assertions on’

As ever, it is unclear what precisely Baudet is basing his assertions on. There are no recent data available on the ‘political preferences’ of Dutch academics. Old data suggest that teaching staff in higher education is indeed oriented slightly more to the political left than professionals with the same academic background working in other sectors. The question is why that is, and countless substantive or economic answers could be put forward. But there is absolutely no basis for the suggestion of ‘left-wing indoctrination’ of colleagues or students. In a recent advisory letter to the House of Representatives, the KNAW (Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences) concluded that there are no signs of any restriction of the freedom of scientific exercise at Dutch universities.

However, Baudet’s remarks are clearly aimed at undermining the legitimacy of our educational institutions and the people who work in them. Just as with other themes (such as migration, cultural diversity, human rights and female emancipation), Baudet creates the spectre of an ‘internal enemy of the people’, above all determined to deprive a presumably indigenous and white Dutch population of its identity. This discourse forms a realistic personal threat, particularly to academics who belong to historically marginalised groups. But it also creates dangerous political precedents: the FvD party is explicitly striving for stronger political control of the content of education, academic education and research. By presenting the universities as ‘undermining’ institutions in which young people are ‘indoctrinated’, the road to a significant limiting of academic freedom and independence is gradually being paved. We can already see how in other parts of the world (Hungary, for example, and Brazil) the future existence of critical studies, such as gender, migration and sexuality studies is already being threatened by similar political developments.

Few academics will deny that having a politically diverse body of teaching staff is in the best interests of academic debate and education. But the same apparently does not apply to a policy which allows politicians to dictate the content of this education and research. Freedom of conscience, intellectual independence and social commitment are inherent to academic core values. These values were already put under pressure by the austerity policy of Rutte’s third cabinet. They are further threatened by the clear winner of last week’s elections referring to our universities as ‘undermining institutions’.

The university is not a political organisation. Its objective is, above all, to offer academics and students the opportunity of positioning themselves in, and where necessary joining in, the scientific and social debate. But now, the university and its major core values are themselves under attack. Not only is the public legitimacy of the university at stake, but also the welfare and sense of security of its staff and students.

‘How can we protect our academic values against the latest political fads?’

It means that we, as an academic community, must enter into a debate about the safeguarding of our academic freedom and integrity. How do we, both inside and outside our universities, offer resistance to the normalisation of racism, misogyny and authoritarianism? How can we protect our academic core values against the latest political fads, and prevent public and universities being pitted against each other? And how much leeway should we, or do we actually want to give to politicians who describe our institutions as ‘undermining’?

The executives of our universities and universities of applied sciences must take an active part in the public debate. They need to refute these insinuations against their staff and stand up for their academic freedom and independence. We therefore call on the Executive Board of Radboud University to publicly take a position on this.

Prof. Yvonne Benschop, Professor of Organisational Behaviour (FMW)

Prof. René ten Bos, Professor of Philosophy of Management Sciences (FMW)

Prof. Jan Bransen, Professor of Philosophy of Behavioural Sciences (FSW)

Prof. Marieke van den Brink, Professor of Gender & Diversity (FSW)

Marijtje Jongsma, university lecturer in Neuropsychology (FSW)

Anouk de Koning, university lecturer in Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology (FSW)

Barbara Müller, university lecturer in Communication Sciences (FSW)

Prof. Carla Rita Palmerino, Professor of History of Modern Philosophy (FFTR)

Mathijs van de Sande, university lecturer in Social and Political Philosophy (FFTR)

Anya Topolski, university lecturer in Ethics and Political Philosophy (FFTR)

Prof. Mieke Verloo, Professor of Comparative Politics and Inequality Issues (FMW)

Prof. Evert van der Zweerde, Professor of Social and Political Philosophy (FFTR)

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