Ethical and political opinions are getting in the way of free science in the Netherlands, a majority of Dutch MPs feel. For this reason, Pieter Duisenberg, an MP representing the Liberal Party (VVD), promoted a motion for an investigation of political bias at Dutch universities. EM asked three academics to weigh in on the subject.

‘I have never experienced any pressure here’

Elbert Dijkgraaf Image credit: Geisje van der Linden

Elbert Dijkgraaf is a Professor of Empirical Economics in the Public Sector at ESE. He is also an MP representing SGP [the Reformed Political Party]. SGP supported Duisenberg’s motion.

“Of course it is a good idea to examine whether this is an issue in the Netherlands, too. I have experienced in the past that unwelcome research results were consciously swept under the rug. This concerned agricultural research at Wageningen University. The senior levels of the university were not involved, but there were a few capacity groups whose main objective appeared to be proving that the results they had previously obtained were correct. That is worrisome to me.

“This should not be an investigation of people’s political preferences. And it won’t be a problem either if it turns out that a lot of people at universities have leftist sympathies, or rightist sympathies. As far as that is concerned, universities do not have to reflect society at large. What matters is that academics do not allow their private sentiments to play a part in their research.

“I have worked at Erasmus University ever since 1996, and I have never experienced any of that kind of pressure here.”

‘There is a stifling consensus at universities’

Chris Aalberts
Chris Aalberts Image credit: Michel de Groot

Chris Aalberts is a lecturer at ESHCC and an investigator of media and politics. His publications include a book entitled De puinhopen van rechts [The mess on the right side of the political spectrum].

“There is a stifling consensus at universities when it comes to certain values. Of course you will not be fired for admitting to voting PVV, but you will be looked down on. Surely highly educated people don’t vote PVV, do they? But why wouldn’t they? And obviously, this is the part where I’m supposed to say that I myself do not vote PVV.

“Rightist sympathies are unusual in social sciences. There is a strong ethical hierarchy. The discourse on cultural values is racist, and a multi-cultural society is a wonderful thing. We are all in favour of emancipating women and gay people, except when their champion is called Ayaan Hirsi Ali. So Duisenberg definitely has a point.

“Not everything gets investigated. Certain specialist fields just do not exist, which is strange. I mean, there is no majority of PVV voters, but PVV voters do make up a large group. Even so I have never read a single decent academic study investigating why people vote PVV or Leefbaar Rotterdam.

“As far as that is concerned, VVD should look at its own part in all this, because they were partially responsible for the single-minded focus on results and the way in which research is currently funded, which leaves little room for socially relevant research.

“A motion like this one is not going to resolve that situation. At the same time I feel that universities should not fear a study, because how sure are we that this is not true – that universities are a leftist bulwark?

“By the way, if universities really did lean to the left, they should do a little bit more for underprivileged people, and I don’t see that happening either.”


‘This motion isjust for show’

Giorgio Touburg is a PhD student at the Rotterdam School of Management, as well as columnist for EM. He recently discussed alleged self-censorship at universities in his column.

“It is hard to say anything about this without getting political. I think that certain disciplines – such as the humanities tend to select people who lean a little more towards the left. This was not caused by an active ideological campaign. People who wish to do something about inequality or social injustice are simply more likely to embark on a degree in sociology than on a degree in finance. This does not necessarily have to constitute a problem, because the various disciplines can learn from each other.

“I don’t think other science disciplines are too bad. I work at the Business Administration department, where I am considered more of a leftie than most people. And economists are often criticised for relying overly heavily on neoclassical models in their teaching and research.

“I think it would be very interesting to look into this, but at the same time I am apprehensive about this study. Who knows what agenda is behind this proposal, or how Duisenberg intends to use the study results? What is he going to do if it turns out that the humanities strongly incline to the left? Will a diversity policy for political sentiments have to be implemented at universities? And if so, does that mean that faculties of economics will be forced to lecture on Marx?

“Duisenberg outlined a taboo situation in which rightist academics are afraid to voice their opinions. I don’t recognise that at all, and I’ve never seen any concrete evidence that it is true. I do understand that VVD is zeroing in on a lucrative trend in public opinion, which is the idea that we are all being silenced by politically correct mad leftists. But it’s campaign time, and it’s pretty obvious that this motion was just for show.”