Anyone who visits the Koopgoot or Binnenwegplein on busy days probably loathes them as much as I do: flyerers. I wish a kind of analogous spam filter existed to protect the unsuspecting shopping public from street canvassing.
So it was no bad thing when the EUR rebuked the Socialist Party when it appeared that the party had been flyering to draw attention to a debate. If there’s one place that should be free from these kinds of recruiting activities, then that’s the University campus, you would think.
The EUR’s press officer maintained that political parties are not permitted to flyer on the campus, appealing among other things to the ‘neutrality’ of the University. This response reveals a rather narrow view of politics, namely that politics is only practised by political parties, such as the SP and its members.
Such a perspective conveniently disregards other ways of practising politics. The SP’s reaction was therefore angry and referred to the free advertising and flyer activity offered to companies like Starbucks and Shell on our campus. There are numerous other parties the EUR offers podiums to or even openly cooperates with, and whose actions and statements, even with the best intentions, could never be described as politically neutral.
In 2014, the EUR still used the services of security company G4S, which was involved in violations of international humanitarian law. That was reason for a number of staff not to participate in the company emergency response course organised by G4S. Another example: the keynote speaker invited by my research school who expressed his admiration for economic inequality because it serves an important social function and encourages young people to make something of their lives.
And at the end of last month, my faculty invited to an alumni event Michael Porter, a Harvard professor who was welcomed by Gaddafi’s Libya at the beginning of this century because, among other things, the regime badly needed some positive press. Also represented at the event was another of Porter’s clients, the Swiss company Nestlé, whose CEO let slip several years ago that he considered ‘extreme’ the idea that drinking water was a public good.
You can probably tell from my tone that I’m not exactly a sympathiser of these parties, but that is not the point I am trying to make. The point is that the EUR wants its campus to be a politically ‘neutral’ zone, but in doing so, it restricts itself to just one – fairly limited – form of political expression; the University isn’t concerned with less public, but possibly even worse violations of that neutrality.
It’s a little bit like a spam filter that moves Viagra advertising to the junk folder, but clears the way for well camouflaged phishing emails.