Several Rotterdam academics are giving open-air lectures this week to draw attention to budget cuts and workload at universities during the national action week of #WOinActie [Academics in action, ed.]. Alessandra Arcuri, Associate Professor of International Economic Law, is the driving force behind the actions at Erasmus University.


Rotterdam academics give open air lectures for #WOinActie

Academics in Rotterdam want to draw attention to work pressure and protest against cuts…

Why did you decide to support #WOinActie?

“I think that what #WOinActie stands for is very important. It’s a protest against budget cuts and all the different policies that are hollowing out the core of university. It’s increasingly becoming a precarious environment. Universities are depending more and more on external funds, assessing the quality of research and education is dependent on questionable rankings, there’s a lack of funding and younger staff are working on risky temporary contracts.

“This is becoming systemic: it leads to more competition. Competition is not a bad thing in itself, but it’s becoming extreme. Academic staff have to spend so much time on things that do not belong to the core business of academia, like accreditations and grant applications. When this becomes central in university politics, it’s disruptive for cooperation among scientists and job security for younger staff.”

How do you experience this in your day-to-day work?

“For me, it is more a broader problem than a personal one. I’m now in a more senior level where my academic life is less threatened than that of younger staff. I’ve been to the grant system a couple of times. I’ve been to all those interviews: very frustrating when you work so hard and don’t get rewarded for it. Usually it’s the winner who speaks, but there are more losers than winners.

Alessandra Arcuri Image credit: Erasmus University

“I’ve also been on the other side, as part of a Committee. I’ve seen how luck plays an important role in judging quality. That’s why I declined when they asked me a second time. I didn’t find it ethical for me to be part of such a Committee.”

“Many people have written to me saying that they would like to contribute to the actions this week, but they have too much work to give an open air lecture. The pressure is so high that they don’t even have time to protest against workload.

“I understand that it’s difficult. I juggle my private life and working life too. We have to work in the evenings and at weekends. It’s also part of our ethos, but you mustn’t forget that we also have obligations to other parts of society. For example, I used to do voluntary work back in Italy. But here in Rotterdam I don’t have time because of my work. I don’t feel very good about that.”


Executive Board supports #WOinActie

The Executive Board supports the goals of #WOinActie. At the same time, the local union…

How does lecturing in the open air contribute to solving these issues?

“Let me link this to what the Minister of Education has said. She described the open air lectures as ‘sympathetic’. That’s a very important word for me. It comes from ancient Greece and means ‘to feel for the other’. The same as empathy.

“The minister probably knows that empathy was an important driver behind the establishment of human rights and the movement to abolish slavery in the 18th century. So I’m very happy that she acknowledges how important these actions are. And I feel that creating sympathy for open air lectures is a great way to make people understand what’s going on in academia.”

What do you hope to have achieved by the end of this week?

“I can’t give you a graph in terms of impact, but I hope that the government will reconsider the current policies of budget cuts, for both their material and symbolic implications. These budget cuts mean disregard for academic work. And I hope that we’ve all created more awareness among academics. For me, it’s an action to demonstrate what the dissatisfaction is about. I don’t know whether this week will change the status quo in academia. But it’s not only about this week. #WOinActie started last year. It’s still alive and we academics should keep it alive.”

The last open-air lecture for protest #WOinActie

Friday morning was the last open-air lecture this week to draw attention to budget cuts…