Why is the Youth Organisation Freedom and Democracy (JOVD) interfering with the diversity policy at Erasmus University? The JOVD lacks a basic academic understanding of what it’s actually about and brings party politics into the university community which goes against academic freedom.

Year after year, inequality reappears at the university, where only 11% of the professors at EUR are women. However, the initiators of a petition on behalf of ‘the women’ of the youth organisation of the VVD (the JOVD) do not recognise signs of a ‘male culture’ in this: otherwise those 11% women wouldn’t be there, says chairwoman of JOVD Rijnmond, Puck van de Putte. According to that argument, there wouldn’t be a problem if only 10% of the professors were women, or 9%, or even if there was only one female professor at the whole university.

That’s because of their unscientific use of ‘male culture’. A better term is ‘masculine culture’, something which both men and women can participate in. And the point is not that no women can ever earn a position. The point is that it maintains a male dominance, by creating a high degree of asymmetry between men and women in positions of power and by selecting women who largely fit in with, or participate in that masculine culture.

Quasi-scientific argument

So for ‘the women of JOVD Rijnmond’ (there are exactly twenty of them), there doesn’t seem to be a problem at all. On the other hand, they feel that something is definitely not right, but that ‘demographic changes’ will make everything good. So there’s no problem and therefore nothing needs to be done. And something is wrong, but magic ‘demographic changes’ will, again, ensure that nothing needs to be done. That’s why the initiators of the JOVD petition are ‘against the fight against diversity’.

But which ‘demographic changes’ are actually involved? Was it the case that fewer women were born in the past and that’s about to change? Have we had a population for years that consisted of ten times as many men than women, but is that going to be resolved as a result of ‘demographic changes’? At least that would explain why the board of JOVD Rijnmond is made up of seven men and one woman! But how do those ‘demographic changes’ relate to ‘free choice’ and ‘individual accountability’ which the JOVD petition also mentions?

One myth contradicts the other, but the end result is just as mythical as convenient for members of a party which sees no alternative to the status quo. The truth is that ‘demographic changes’ is a quasi-scientific argument that is based on nothing. The women of the JOVD are therefore interfering in a university discussion under the banner of a political party, and without a good scientific basis.

Classic idiocy

And they can’t read either. Because the JOVD petition responds to the open letter about diversity by stating its opposition to ‘quotas’. In a recent interview with EM, the JOVD Rijnmond chairwoman said the same: the letter should be ignored because quotas are not a good idea. But the open letter doesn’t mention quota at all. The JOVD petition also states: “the letter calls for recruitment procedures to be adjusted so that women are given priority for certain positions.” But no one reading the letter will find anything about this. Do the JOVD women actually know what they are responding to? Do they actually have a clear idea about what they want the university to ignore?

The ancient Greeks had a word for people who are not capable of reasoning and engaging in the public sphere: idiotes, or: idiots. According to the Greeks, idiots did not contribute to politics and their preoccupations were private. They have no idea about the public world which primarily makes their lives possible. The same applies to the JOVD petition: scientific concepts are not understood or ill-founded (‘male culture’, ‘demographic development’), and they reduce what are clearly public issues – a division which any onlooker would consider bizarrely warped for arbitrary reasons – to private considerations, to ‘individual choice’ or ‘individual accountability’.

By contrast to the idiots, according to the ancient Greeks, were the polites: public citizens who were capable of reasoning and did participate in public life. The authors of the open letter about diversity are a good example of polites: they make something public, appeal for inclusive change by explicitly stating that diversity is an issue that concerns everyone. They also call for the minimum: a policy that pays more than simple lip service to a further undefined image of ‘diversity’ and the tokenism of faculty ‘diversity officers’ who have absolutely no time to do anything. The initiators of the JOVD petition, on the other hand, appeal against going public about ‘diversity’, by asking the university ‘to ignore’ the diversity letter. A more classic form of idiocy is difficult to imagine.

Involvement of party politics

That wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t about interference in university processes by people representing a political party. Every public discussion has its idiots and they make it very clear how public reason should be shaped. But what were the initiators of the anti-diversity petition thinking when, rather than presenting it under their personal title, they presented it as a JOVD petition?

Let’s be clear: diversity is a ‘political’ issue at the university, because it concerns structures of dominance. It is just the politics of our workplace, of our university community, not a party political issue. There is a place for that, certainly – in The Hague, where all the universities can be questioned about how they organise and reproduce dominance. But bringing the symbolic weight of the biggest political party to bear on a university community constitutes a threat to academic freedom, as were the Parliamentary Questions earlier this year, from the same political party, about the ideological colour of university staff. The production of university knowledge must be organised without the direct involvement of party politics. This is the only way to produce knowledge that is democratically useful, from an academic freedom which also provides democracy with knowledge that specific political parties may not need.

At the university, let students and staff primarily speak in their personal capacity. So not with the authority of a political party, but their arguments – however you view them – can also be tested against scientific standards (prominently: can read), and that benefits the quality of the public debate about diversity. Magic notions like ‘demographic changes’ can then be unmasked as the fallacies they are. Executive Board, don’t ignore the idiotes of the JOVD. Use them to clarify who are the polites in discussions about diversity.

Willem Schinkel is endowed professor Sociological Theory and was among the first to support the open letter about diversity at Erasmus University.

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