As politicians at home and abroad continue to meddle with academic freedom, students only seem to become really interested when they no longer have to walk from metro station Kralingse Zoom to the campus.

Jiska Engelbert_portret
Jiska Engelbert

In February, the first edition of a three weekly ‘Message from the University Council’ appeared on our website. It is aimed at both students and staff and this edition was written by the chair representing staff on the Council, Jiska Engelbert. One of the points she raises is that the results of the staff satisfaction survey are not as positive as the EUR itself would like to suggest. Granted, the staff at EUR might be more satisfied than two years ago, but this is with the exception of those working at the General Management Directorate and the Faculty of Philosophy. “The University Council sees the results as actually confirming that excessive workload is a huge problem at EUR,” concludes Engelbert.

Another person who foresees problems is Pieter Duisenberg, MP for the Dutch liberal VVD party. His parliamentary motion to enquire into whether ‘self-censorship and a lack of diversity’ exists at the universities secured a majority in the House of Representatives in February, even though the minister responsible, Jet Bussemaker, had previously indicated ‘that this wasn’t going to happen’. Our own Elbert Dijkgraaf (professor at ESE and MP for SGP) voted for the motion. “It’s always good to see whether this (American problem, ed.) also plays a role in the Netherlands.” Chris Aalberts, lecturer at ESHCC, is also in favour of this. He speaks to EM of a ‘suffocating consensus’ at Dutch universities. Researcher and EM columnist Giorgio Touburg (who admits to being ‘more left than the mainstream’ at RSM) calls such an enquiry ‘very interesting’ but at the same time something ‘for the stage’.

There are also numerous dangers around the world, so many that the rectors of the Dutch universities decided to send a joint letter to the Dutch NRC newspaper. Their motive: the totalitarian figures in Turkey and Iran and a Twitterhappy figure in the United States. “All of these developments hinder open communication and the exchange of ideas, and as a result the freedom of science, and lead to a restriction in the benefits they offer society,” the rectors write. Let’s hope that Trump and Erdogan read the NRC.

There seemed to be relief for students who have problems studying as a result of such things as illness or pregnancy: the Dutch House of Representatives wanted to offer students in these situations the opportunity to pay per credit point. That would save you a lot of money if a baby kept you awake every night during the exam week. Joy at the news was short-lived, because it soon became apparent to be only an experiment, and also one in which EUR refuses to participate. The experiment ‘wouldn’t be beneficial to study practicability and the substantive cohesion of the education,’ according to a press officer. Moreover, regulations already exist for students experiencing delays in their study progress.

Image credit: Maurits Vink

Of course, it would be better if you didn’t fall ill at all. But what about the general fitness of the EUR student? The unprecedented enthusiasm on Facebook when it was announced that there are plans to introduce self-driving buses between Kralingse Zoom metro station and EUR doesn’t bode well. It is far from certain, but if it does go ahead, it will mean that from 2020 you can get your fries from Bram Ladage on Kralingse Zoom and then catch a shuttle bus and let your arteries clog up as you are driven to the campus. But then you would also miss grabbing a pizza from the new stand on the corner of the car park.

Rector in polakgebouw foto Engel
Rector magnificus Huibert Pols marcheert de trap op. Image credit: Shirin Engel-Erasmus Sustainability Hub

Fortunately, there are also more favourable signals for the physical condition on campus. The magnificent ‘M.C. Escher’ staircase in the Polak Building provides a great opportunity to burn off some of those extra calories. Rector Huib Pols set a good example at the beginning of the five-day ‘staircase challenge’, which included various competitions on the stairs of the building. Nevertheless, putting the lifts out of action would currently seem the best method for getting students to take the stairs.