Academics want an end to forensic investigation at ESHCC
Over two hundred scholars are appealing to the Executive Board at Erasmus University to…
You were one of the first to sign that letter, and you mailed EM: I only partially agree with that open letter, but for me it’s about the principle. What principle?
“The forensic investigation is a completely disproportionate measure by the Executive Board that should never have been allowed. It creates a dangerous precedent. Imagine: in fifty years’ time, the Forum for Democracy is in power and our universities are governed by fascists. You wouldn’t then want a university board to be able to deploy such measures. If you look at the regulation, the university can even access your e-mails if you cause negative publicity.”
I was shocked.
“Me too. Until now, the university has always defended me if another right extremist felt that I was too left wing. I’m one of the ten members of staff who attracts the most negative comments online. So, a university that stands for absolute research freedom, scientific freedom and freedom of expression benefits me. But what happens if a university board suddenly says: we feel that Willem Schinkel is attracting too much negative attention for our university. Do they then take measures? Will they search my e-mails? Who guarantees that they’ll never do that? This regulation does not protect me against that.
Which part of the letter didn’t you agree with?
“You could see the letter as providing support for a conservative position that wants the ESHCC and the university to remain as they are, and I certainly don’t support that. Furthermore, leaking suspicions of plagiarism to the press is very bad. That’s a ridiculous, low action. The correct procedures should have been followed.”
The suspicions of plagiarism were first reported to the Executive Board. The Board didn’t feel any action was necessary.
“If the Executive Board doesn’t do anything, there are other steps you can take: go to the Committee for Scientific Integrity or the National Board for Research Integrity (LOWI). Now someone’s been outlawed, pure out of self-interest.
“But when something like that happens, as the Executive Board you need to cut your losses and not stoop so low as to deploy a completely ridiculous means because you can’t have people leaking to the press.
“Now colleagues don’t dare to use their university e-mail any more. If that’s the only thing you’ve achieved with this investigation, then at least you should admit in retrospect: shit, we got it wrong. And that’s not the only thing that’s going wrong. In this whole merger process, the university continues to show its worst side.”
What do you mean by that?
“The appointment of (interim-dean of the ESHCC, ed.) Dymph van den Boom was another mistake. She’s someone with many years’ experience as former rector, but the level of the report she delivered was shocking. A very poorly composed administrative report. In short: she doesn’t have any clue either. There’s a total lack of substantive vision. As a result, it gives the conservative powers in the faculty all the arguments to say: the Executive Board is just winging it.”
ESHCC and the wolf: a cautionary tale
Faculty Council chair Ana Uribe Sandoval writes about the forensic investigation going on…
Do you understand the opposition to the merger?
“Everything I’ve seen is pure conservatism, focused on power consolidation. People are only about their own positions and not in terms of the university. While the question should be: as a university, what is our role on Earth? Or: what are the public tasks of the university? In that light, it might be useful to give the university a different form. Those are questions that aren’t being asked. Everyone is acting as if the university is a God-given entity.”
What is your personal view of the merger plans?
“I think that merging the ESHCC, for example with philosophy or the social sciences, is very logical. Apart from budgetary reasons – despite the faculty seeming to be in a good financial position – there are also good substantive arguments. The world around us is increasingly lumping these disciplines together. You see that at international and European level, as well as with the NWO. Furthermore, the big issues of our times aren’t restricted to those disciplinary boundaries. For me, it would be very interesting if it was easier to work with people who take a philosophical approach or who work in media studies.”
Part of the opposition is also: why doesn’t the Executive Board explain why we need to merge?
“That’s correct. But the Executive Board shouldn’t need to explain. Those involved ought to work it out for themselves. There’s only opposition for bad substantive reasons, no vision.”
Even the philosophers recently expressed their opposition to a merger.
“They obviously have a separate status at Erasmus University. There are good reasons for that status, and it was also what saved them a few years ago. But I think they’re now confusing the means with the goal. There’s no reason at all to think that philosophy will disappear or be able to play a less important role if they are strengthened by history, for example.”
Why is so much going wrong?
“In my opinion, it’s because of the hierarchical structure at the university. A large part of the rat race and competition at universities is the result of power positions that have been made artificially scarce. It’s only possible to achieve real change from a position of power. So anyone with even a little bit of power benefits from holding on to that position. That produces a massive conservative spasm at universities. That’s why university protest movements, like WOinActie, are often so conservative: they often end up protecting positions of power and privileges.”
What’s the solution to break through that conservatism?
“A kind of civil disobedience within the academic community might work. Ultimately, everyone in a position of power depends on all those people under them who do the executive work with passion. However, we really need legal measures.
“To mention something very concrete: abandon the distinction between professor, associate professor and assistant professor. A professorship is such an artificially scarce position of power. The smartest people at universities don’t necessarily become professors. Make everyone who holds a doctorate and is given a position a professor. That lightens everything up and removes a lot of agitation and envy at universities.”