Last Monday, forty EUR and WDKA students – as members of the international endfossilfuel movement – occupied the Sanders building on the Woudestein campus. Next to better working conditions for students and employees, they specifically demanded the university sever its ties with Shell immediately.

From around 11 am young occupiers listened to speeches and short lectures, participated in various workshops and teach-ins, and attentively listened to contributions from an expert panel. Beyond this, there was simply a lot of fun. The delight of finding each other in a common cause; the laughter and bustle of meeting your friends again without the stress of educational credits; and above all the joy of working collectively on something beautiful: a world that does not revolve around plunder and pollution, but around communal care for each other and the earth. In this spirit, people took good care of one another: the coffee and lentil and pumpkin soup were excellent. Already early in the day, the Executive Board (CvB) promised to visit the occupation in search of a dialogue.

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Sanders building occupation: easy-going atmosphere, no-show from Executive Board, riot police on the scene

OccupyEUR, the group of staff and students occupying the Sanders Building, had the coffee…

Around 6 pm activists were preparing coffee in anticipation of the CvB when several campus security guards and police officers ordered them to vacate the building. By that time, riot police and regular officers had positioned themselves in the glass-windowed hall of the Sanders building. Many of them had their scarfs pulled up to their noses. Confusion abounded: wasn’t the CvB about to arrive?

Apparently not. A source informed the group that the CvB didn’t ‘manage’ to get around to the occupation and talk to the students. A later statement by the CvB speaks of ‘signs’ that the police would no longer be able to guarantee the safety of the occupiers. Police subsequently arrested ten occupiers who chose to remain in the building and insist on their right to protest. They were hauled away to a police station.

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Police clear Sanders building, about ten protesters led away

Students and staff of OccupyEUR left the Sanders Building around 6.30pm on Monday…

Right to protest

Let’s be clear: what happened here is a shocking violation of the right of students and employees to protest. In a similar case at the Technical University Eindhoven, a judge relieved a student from all prosecutions, because of the similarly disproportional response by its CvB. The actions taken by our CvB are indeed a senseless escalation of a peaceful protest. But above all it’s an embarrassing display by a CvB that since 2018 advertises a sustainability vision and now – cowardly, or perhaps after a phone call with Shell? – would sooner let loose the state apparatus on its students than to have a conversation.

Beyond an issue of rights, we teach students that demonstrations are also always moments through which to investigate our world and draw lessons for the future. This is especially true when it happens in academic places. Precisely as study, the occupation has been a resounding success. So, the question is: what can we learn – about the university itself and the CvB in particular?

Renting out rooms

First of all, that the CvB’s actions, in apparent ignorance the history of universities, have been based on the idea that something disorganized was going on here, something that could not be understood within the bureaucratic-managerial logic through which it apparently understands itself. In this logic, ‘the university’ is little more than a conference venue that rents out rooms for business meetings. ‘Hey, there a bunch of people in an inappropriate place, people who want to save the earth but didn’t reserve a room for that. Let’s kick them out!’

That universities have historically often been places where people experiment with forms of gathering and that this was one of those moments, has escaped the CvB. Evidently, the university sees itself as simply an extension of the existing social order, and is immediately willing to use excessive violence against its own students. The very possibility to be together in ways that do not conform to the management of a conference center is unthinkable. Finally, this CvB thinks that climate politics can only happen when the right people are called to deliberate at the right table at the right moment. Something that can and should be policed. So again, it’s made into an issue of renting out rooms.

Monologue of violence and repression

This CvB is a Committee for Business. And that’s making it sound benign. The police had already been involved and present on campus before a single activist had arrived. Before a chant was sung or a banner was hung, the CvB had already criminalized this demonstration. Freedom of the press was violated when a journalist of the Financieel Dagblad was prevented from entering the building by campus security. This is how the CvB communicates with students: a monologue of violence and repression that is best compared to the tactics of authoritarian regimes. ‘The Erasmian way’ is nothing but the continuation of the social order and complicity in planetary plunder. Business as usual.

Another important lesson for us concerns the university’s allegiance to ‘impact’. The university can’t stop talking about ‘impactful’ education. This also includes that students learn to be critical. It’s clear: this only means that you do what is condoned by the Committee for Business. The only ‘impact’ that the university apparently wants to have is the impact that leaves behind a ravaged planet. The meekest liveliness has to be repressed at once. What must be protected at all costs, are the career opportunities at Shell, which enthusiastically pursues global warming. Positive impact means complicity in planetary plunder. It shouldn’t surprise that it’s the current marketing slogan of Deutsche Bank.

And what is perhaps the most significant lesson: not the CvB but Shell runs our campus. Based on these lessons, as members of the academic community we say: shame on you, CvB.

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