The beautiful autumn floral arrangement that I received for my farewell as chair of the editorial board of Erasmus Magazine brightens up my home office. I look back on my five years of serving EM with a lot of pleasure. First as member, and then as chair of the Editorial Board. I enjoyed the intense discussions with students, academic and administrative colleagues as well as the external experts on the board. I learned a lot about journalism in general and about the delicate balance journalists (particularly those at EM) have to strike. As in, being independent, and at the same time, being part of the Erasmus University. One of the missions of EM is to provide a platform for free exchanges on current topics at the university. This aspect of the work of the EM was my main reason for joining the editorial board. I wanted to help facilitate a true debate culture within Erasmus University.

Respect and Fingerspitzengefühl

Looking back, I feel a little melancholic. On the one hand, I was impressed how openly and courageously some colleagues and students contributed to certain debates. On the other hand, I also experienced how reluctant colleagues and students across all functions and roles were to share their opinions and insights. I certainly understand this hesitation, given that the price for expressing yourself outside the safe, formal lines of your function and direct expertise can be high. Superiors or colleagues might feel that the opinion you express could damage the reputation of your department or faculty, official guidelines might be misrepresented, or sensitive internal discussions might be harmed by outside interference.

All this is very true and important, and certainly forms part of the fundamental rules of organisational citizenship for handling public debates with care, respect and ‘Fingerspitzengefühl’. Nevertheless, in order to trigger innovation and change at our university, another form of organisational citizenship is needed. Namely, claiming a place for diverse perspectives and flagging problems and failures.

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New EUC dean Gabriele Jacobs: ‘Young women struggle with the same problems as I did twenty years ago’

After twenty years at Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), Professor Gabriele Jacobs is…

When we at the EUR want to be at the centre of society, when we want to speak up and be an important player when it comes to solving societal problems, we also need to be able to do this on an internal level. I genuinely believe that we, as Erasmus University, are taking major and important steps in the right direction. The strategy for 2024 is a roadmap I can fully subscribe to. I see hopeful signs of developments towards a more open debate on work pressure, social justice for working conditions, inclusivity and a social safety culture.

Yet, there is still a long way to go, and for some of us the wait is painful; the improvements may come too late. I certainly wish for a more open conversation and brave debate within my university when it comes to pressing questions involving racism, sexism, homophobia and class discrimination. If not ourselves as a university, who else should be able to act as a role model for a meaningful debate culture?

Between a controversial discussion and verbal violence

In my role as dean of Erasmus University College, I realized how important it is to clearly define the line between a controversial discussion and verbal violence. We cannot leave our students and colleagues alone with abusive WhatsApp messages, with hurtful remarks or scribbles inside or outside of our classrooms. We need to signal that we do not tolerate any form of physical, written or verbal violence, but that we are up for open conversations, and that the university is the place to voice opinions and to freely discuss opposing social and political ideas.

It worries me how often I experience that colleagues or students gave up on talking. And it fills me with hope when I see that other colleagues and students aren’t giving up and keep on discussing issues, without thinking that the other is too conservative, feminist, white, populist, black, privileged, colonial, heteronormative, disadvantaged, tree-hugging, sexist, gay, conspiracy theorist, or vegan to have a discussion with.

Winterse dag op de campus_Amber Leijen_vrije opdracht (18)

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Concerns about racist and antisemitic posts in student app group

In an app group for third-year students studying at Erasmus University College (EUC),…

The COVID-19 pandemic is another situation which makes me realise how much I really need an open debate with my colleagues and students. Since March, I feel that every single conversation on COVID-19 is a shared sense-making exercise which provides me with important new ideas, confirmations or insights. How can we protect ourselves, our colleagues, our students against COVID-19? What does COVID-19 mean for work, for education, for our university, our society? It is clear by now that we need tailor-made solutions, as tasks and personal circumstances of colleagues and students differ tremendously.

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Science & corona

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Collective sense-making

Yet, how do we find a good and fair balance between all these different needs and perspectives? In order to achieve this, we felt at EUC that we need to have more opportunities for collective sense-making. Next to taskforces and regular digital community meetings, we are currently organising an ‘Erasmus Perspectives on COVID-19’ lecture series. We have invited experts from different faculties to share their research and insights on COVID-19, from a life science, business & economic, behavioural & social sciences/humanities standpoint. It was wonderful to see that all the colleagues who we approached were immediately willing to share their valuable perspectives and ideas with us. I very much look forward to some interesting debates.

Thank you, EM, for your journalistic dedication and for keeping us talking at the EUR. I wish you and the editorial board the very best for the future in continued “critical solidarity” with the EUR.

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