Isn’t such a situation at odds with the duty of universities to safeguard academic freedom, the VVD member of parliament wanted to know. The Minister’s response was clear: ‘No’. In higher education, he feels there must be room for ‘confrontations, debate and difficult conversations’.
“Which means that students and lecturers must be able to discuss issues, but that a rebuttal may also follow. This critical function lies in the nature of academic education,” he writes. Universities are “robust organisations which can deal with this,” he feels.
Walking on eggshells
Van der Woude also says that it is ‘very worrying’ that lecturers do not feel free to express themselves due to the woke movement and wonders what the Minister will do to better protect academic freedom. But Dijkgraaf refers to the boards of the educational institutions. It is their duty to protect academic freedom.
He also feels that it is concerning if lecturers no longer feel able to express themselves, for example because they feel intimidated or threatened. “But if lecturers find it difficult to be confronted by assertive students with criticism, that still does not constitute a limitation of academic freedom,” he adds. He feels it is also unacceptable if lecturers ‘are constantly walking on eggshells’.
It can be difficult for board members to identify specific situations in which academic freedom is at risk, the Minister admits. He wants to talk to the umbrella associations at the universities and universities of applied sciences about how they can manage that area of tension.