Demand 1: Cut ties with the fossil fuel industry
A few years ago, PhD student and activist Vatan Hüzeir wrote a report on the university’s ties with the fossil fuel industry. One of the most pressing issues raised: the contracts signed with parties such as Shell promising them a say in the Rotterdam School of Management’s curriculum. The contracts, which had been proudly displayed on the wall in the Mandeville Building, were removed and shredded.
In an interview, President of the Executive Board Ed Brinksma tells EM that he has had the extent of the university’s ties with the fossil fuel industry investigated. He insists that the only ties with such companies pertain to projects or research on the climate transition and denies that the ties have anything to do with ‘fossil fuel extraction’. EM has requested the list from the Executive Board but has so far not received a copy.
EUR endorses the Climate Letter drawn up by EUR professors Thea Hilhorst and Jan Rotmans. In this letter, the universities commit to achieving such things as drastically reducing energy consumption and air travel and ceasing all use of university funds to invest in the fossil fuel industry. In the Rotterdam Climate Agreement, Erasmus University pledged that it would be carbon-neutral by 2024, but this seems unlikely. The university has quietly decided to push this back to 2030.
Brinksma believes that the university has some common ground with OccupyEUR when it comes to the climate but has no intention of cutting all ties with the fossil fuel industry. In an interview with EM, he explained that, “If those companies are in the process of transitioning, we should try to help them. We need to get society as a whole moving, and if you take the moral high ground and separate the good people from the bad, I’m not sure we are going to achieve our goal.”
A salient detail: the logos of Shell and BP adorned a sponsor board at the Erasmus Recruitment Days in the Theil Building, just as they have done at many events organised by students.
Demand 2: Permanent contracts for structural work
There have been calls for more permanent employment agreements at the university for many years now. Employees are often dismissed after a second temporary contract, resulting in teaching staff hopping from one university to another, with all the consequences that this entails, including anxiety and insomnia.
Temporary contracts are commonly foisted on any scholars and teaching staff who are not professors or associate professors. Figures released by Universities of The Netherlands reveal a very slight fall in the proportion of temporary contracts among that group over the past decade, down from 80 percent to 79 percent.
Robbert Dijkgraaf, Minister for Education, Culture and Science, is hoping that the new sector plans will boost the number of permanent contracts. These plans include university lecturers being allocated their own research budgets, giving them more job security. However, the Minister will not be setting any targets in that respect. Meanwhile, in collective labour agreements, permanent contracts are only to be awarded to a select group or postponed.
Demand 3: End student debt and give full compensation
This is a demand that cannot be met by Erasmus University independently, but OccupyEUR insists that the university could lobby in The Hague. There is already some talk of a certain amount of compensation for those students who missed out on the student grant between 2015 and 2022 and did not benefit from additional investments in education either. The government has earmarked a billion euros for that group.
This may seem like a lot, until you realise that it’s around 11 billion less than the students missed out on, according to critics’ calculations. Students starting in that period missed out on approximately 13,000 euros in income during their studies and will now receive no more than 3,272 euros in compensation.
Demand 4: Accessibility for all
OccupyEUR also wants ‘accessibility for all’. The fact that the brand-new Langeveld Building leaves a lot to be desired is a real sore point for the activists. The doors to the disabled toilets are too heavy for people in wheelchairs, the colour scheme is terrible for those who are visually impaired and the location of wheelchair spaces in lecture halls is impractical.
On-campus accessibility has been the subject of criticism for many years now. EUR always ends up at the bottom of the rankings in the annual disabled student satisfaction survey conducted by the Centre for Higher Education Information (CHOI).
The university has pledged to make improvements and has drawn up a list of points for improvement in conjunction with disabled students, but whether structural problems in the Langeveld Building and elsewhere on campus can be solved is something that remains to be seen.