The meeting had two parts. The first round covered protest, academic freedom and Erasmian values, and the second dealt with collaboration with the fossil fuel industry. Each round kicked off with statements from academics, students and a dean or vice dean. The staff and students in attendance were then given an opportunity to respond or ask questions.
The entire Executive Board showed up, but the members were only allowed to speak at the end of each round of the discussion. When Chairman of the Board Ed Brinksma rose prematurely to answer a question on the on-campus demonstration protocol, he was ushered back to his seat by moderator Malou van Hintum.
Protest movement Occupy EUR did not officially attend, instead issuing a statement explaining its absence. The movement took the view that the setting did not allow enough room to allow everyone to contribute to the discussion, and it would first like a greater degree of transparency and a more sincere apology from the Executive Board. Occupy has also produced a bingo card for the attendees containing statements they expected to be uttered during the round-table discussion. Some people played along enthusiastically, and the occasional cry of ‘bingo!’ resounded around the hall.
Scope for activism
‘Do we want to be a university that offers scope for activism or are we just a university for the suited and booted?’
While Occupy wasn’t there, the audience nevertheless included plenty of staff and students who were part of the occupation. They were most outspoken during the first round of the meeting. There were lots of questions on the crisis protocols followed and the police intervention. Some of those present argued for more emotion and humour and less ‘forced professionalism’. One question pertaining to Erasmus University’s identity triggered a wave of applause: “Do we want to be a university that offers scope for activism or are we just a university for the suited and booted?”
Professor of Erasmian Values Ronald van Raak pointed out that the occupations were in keeping with a long tradition of student protest in the Netherlands. He believes that the protest was also in keeping with the values of Desiderius Erasmus, who would be able to appreciate the occupiers’ humour and irony. University Council members Veerle Bakker and Tom van Dijken argued that they saw Erasmian values represented in the Sanders Building protest. Bakker: “The university’s response was in stark contrast with those values.”
One member of staff from the Design Impact Transition Platform said that the occupation was held on his first working day. He was surprised that the police were called in to put down a peaceful protest ‘that was entirely in the spirit of the university’s values’, and voiced his doubt as to whether there have been enough apologies and atonement to make a discussion like this worthwhile.
One student who was part of the occupation thought there has not been, and would like the Executive Board to acknowledge that it turned the campus into somewhere that was unsafe for students.
Rector Magnificus Annelien Bredenoord and Chairman of the Board Ed Brinksma responded to some of the questions and comments shortly afterwards. Bredenoord: “There is scope, and we need to create scope, for criticism, humour, protest and even occupations.” They argued for connection and are hoping for more of these kinds of meetings.
Brinksma focused primarily on the police intervention, but insisted that there cannot be full transparency on matters of security. Above all, he stressed that the decision had nothing to do with the students in the Sanders Building, being instead linked to police ‘scenarios’ and the possibility of outsiders infiltrating the protest.
‘We didn’t want to show up seeming like the high and mighty Executive Board’
Several attendees asked why the Executive Board did not just turn up to the protest. Initially, there was no response to this question. It was due to other obligations, as well as out of politeness, Bredenoord responds a short while later. “We didn’t want to show up seeming like the high and mighty Executive Board. We’d been invited to come along in the evening and were intending to do so at around seven o’clock.” After the meeting, Occupy disseminated a WhatsApp chat that shows that the Board had also been invited to drop by in the afternoon.
Recruitment posters with company logos
Round two dealt with EUR’s collaboration with the fossil fuel industry. Lots of those present demanded that ties be cut. Levi Polderman, student and Chair of the Sustainability Hub, repeatedly highlighted conclusions drawn by the IPCC, and hopes that the university will acknowledge the climate crisis. Climate philosopher Yogi Hendlin put the spotlight on the lobbying power of polluting companies. He called it problematic that the logos of such companies feature on recruitment posters. Cooperation serves to legitimise, he explained, and ceasing cooperation will send a message to Shell about its responsibility.
Maarten Verbrugh, Vice Dean Education at the Erasmus School of Law, defended cooperation, up to a point. “It might be a good idea for some of our students to end up working for those companies, to influence them.” In that regard, he gave the disclaimer that he thinks that the fossil fuel industry is not doing enough to become sustainable. The meeting ended with Ellen van Schoten, Vice Chair of the Executive Board, explaining that the topic is one close to her heart, and she struggles with the fact that change is happening so slowly. She said that the university is not investing in fossil fuels at a centralised level, promises a greater degree of transparency on cooperation and pointed out that a dashboard is being created to highlight all the education and research on sustainability.
The entire discussion will be available to watch on the university’s YouTube channel. The initiators are regarding Thursday’s round-table discussion as a starting point. They intend to organise more meetings from January onwards. Staff and students who have ideas regarding content or set-up, or who wish to help out with organising things, are welcome to send an email to [email protected].