Gunneweg recognises that students’ mental well-being is under pressure. However, she wonders whether EUR’s current measures are effective. She mainly seemed to have a problem with the university’s willingness to satisfy certain student initiatives and demands (The Living Room, table football, funding for events, additional study spaces and the sustainable allotment). Gunneweg appreciates the attempt to handle the human dimension but suggests that students generally are no longer capable, because of an excess of stimuli, to commit to the most basic agreements or even to recognise an unpeeled potato as such.
We actually spend the whole day on our mobile phones and leave our meal-making to those people who have trained for this. The university needs to stop pampering these desensitised, over-stimulated millennials and make clear that anything that’s beautiful, takes effort.
The opportunistic whiner and the over-stimulated drifter
That most of the examples she mentioned are initiated and implemented by students who ‘are really making an effort’ here, seems to have passed her by. Instead of encouraging these students, Gunneweg pushes them aside as ill-mannered and undisciplined complainants who want something for nothing.
In Gunneweg’s universe, there are two types of students. The opportunistic whiner. This is the whingey student who milks dry the goodwill of the university by appealing for resources and a voice to achieve trivial projects. And the over-stimulated drifter. The stress of choices and impulses mean that this student is everywhere and nowhere. In the end, he does nothing because he wants too much and therefore can’t do much. Both archetypes lack commitment to what they’re doing. It demands the utmost in uniformed cynicism to conceive the group of student initiatives and participation in decision-making bodies as having a lack of commitment.
Beautiful things are difficult
Editor-in-chief Wieneke Gunneweg wonders: how far does the university's responsibility…
Nurturing in the doghouse
Gunneweg poses an open question in her article: What do you impart in students if you, as university, start getting involved in nurturing? Next to making a study choice, there are few decisions that have more impact on a person’s life. Not only the concrete consequences of studying, namely the jobs you become eligible for, but also the development of interests, the way in which you can consider the world and even ideas about good and evil. These are all influenced to a large extent by the study you do. The communication of personal values and norms is shown in science in general and in the university in particular. The explicit evidence of this is these days written in big bold letters on the skybridge.
It is a public duty of the university to use education to focus on the personal development of students. This nurturing element actually prevents equating a student with a consumer of education. Being a student is not only about pragmatically gaining knowledge as a guarantee for a future. Shouldn’t you be able to hope that academic education confronts students with a multiplicity of perspectives, possibilities and values? The university is the nurturer ‘pur sang’. It doesn’t operate in isolation of the objective sciences, detached from society and values – it is a distinct part of society and offers its students orientation points, where possible.
That is at the same time an answer to the question, how far does the university’s responsibility extend with respect to student welfare? Far, because the university is actually not a company that wants to keep its students healthy to reduce ‘sickness absence’ but is an institute with a public duty to facilitate education in the heart of a society that is becoming increasingly complex and demanding.
How did the university handle this in the past? Let’s focus on the generation that has already had a nurturing course from the university: the flesh-eating, greedy, comfort-seeking, leaving-it-to-the-generation-after-them baby boomers. Despite all the warnings over the past decades, this generation happily continued with its unsustainable way of life. From their comfortable armchairs and enjoying their early pensions, this generation decided to just continue in the same way, and then to criticise the millennials for their uninvolved, lazy attitude.
A good kicking
Or is this general character sketch unfair to the diversity of people and their convictions within this generation? Are there baby boomers that concern themselves about their environment and the future? Can it be that the tendency to lump an entire generation into the same pot maybe doesn’t do justice to reality? Is it possible that having such a label attached to you could have a paralysing effect? Since you have the idea that whatever you do, you can’t escape this all-encompassing condemnation?
The standard to which the millennial is held is high, but more than that; it is paradoxical. The millennial is expected to get involved via attractive slogans and spoken appeals. But the creation of a student living room and the construction of a garden with a beehive is explained as a way to keep the me-me-me, pushy millennial happy. Instead of compliments, the students that have worked hard for this are given a good kicking.
That these initiatives originate from students’ sincere beliefs is apparently a strange idea. The effort, time and energy that the student has made for this can, according to Gunneweg, be reduced to the narcissistic me-me-me culture. Everything is about self-profiling, and your environment is there to serve this. The consequence of this accusation is that students do not only need to invest in the environment, but also needs to arm themselves against attacks from this same environment that doubts the intention of the investment. The world on its head.
That a discussion about the role of the university with respect to nurturing its students is expressed in cheap target practice against ‘the millennial’ fits in the general tenor of what this ‘generation’ often has to put up with. There are examples enough: Instead of conducting a discussion about the government’s climate policy, the ‘opinion formers’ tumble over themselves to bring the knowledge and intentions of the activists on the Malieveld into doubt. It is actually an easy trick to point out a problem, pass the blame onto someone else and then take no single responsibility for finding a solution. These ‘millennials’ have had enough.
With each other, not about each other
If we want a discussion about the nurturing task of the university with respect to its students and the commitment of students in general, then for heaven’s sake, let’s do that. With each other, not about each other. So that we can together carry shared responsibility to shape the environment in which we live. As this university’s namesake, Desiderius Erasmus, wrote: anything that’s beautiful takes effort.