The Executive Board has been very critical of the third occupation carried out by OccupyEUR: the occupation disrupted teaching and interfered with members of staff. Why did you voice this criticism?

“We regret that this was necessary. If you ask me to reflect, I’m very disappointed that there were no opportunities for a conversation and that our people were not always treated respectfully. Unfortunately, we concluded that there were some incidents. Some members of staff were treated unfairly and people were filmed against their will – there was even an instance where someone was threatened.”

Could you clarify exactly which incidents were involved?

“I don’t want to name names or anything like that. What I would like to stress is that we need to treat each other respectfully on campus, and this went wrong during the occupation.”

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Executive Board: Examinations and lectures disrupted and staff harassed by OccupyEUR

In an internal communication, the Executive Board asserts that OccupyEUR activists…

Was this why the police were called in?

“We give people space to protest on campus, provided they observe the house rules: they must not disrupt educational activities and are not allowed to stay overnight. We made these rules known at the start of the occupation, so they did not come as a surprise. The buildings close at 7.30 p.m. Unfortunately, not everyone left of their own accord, so the police had to intervene.

“It is important to us that people are allowed to protest on campus. But we’re also responsible for the safety of the whole community. So if you do protest on campus, you should observe the house rules.”

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Arrests at forced end of protest in Erasmus building (update)

Twelve protesters were arrested during the eviction of the Occupy protest at the Erasmus…

Both students and staff criticise the Board’s decision to have the police end the occupation. What is your opinion?

“Criticism is valid, that’s not a problem. Emotions are also part of this issue, as it’s about the future of our planet. But I believe criticism should be accompanied by dialogue, and this went wrong. No dialogue was possible with OccupyEUR, whereas we very much wanted to have a conversation. I was there in the morning. Our rector and several deans were there too, but there was no debate. We were only able to respond to their demands digitally.

“One of our action points is to organise rounds of dialogue on campus. We want to engage with students and staff so as to make sustainability part of this university’s DNA.”

What is the goal of the dialogues?

“The goal is to come up with solutions for a number of sustainability issues, including the links with the fossil fuel industry. When we talk about this, we should first address what is meant by the fossil fuel industry. If you examine it closely, part of our direct funding comes from the gas industry. So we need to reflect carefully: where do our ties start and where do they end?

“It’s not in our own interest to cut the fossil fuel companies loose. On the contrary, we want to contribute to the solutions. We need to figure out how we can embark on a transition together with the industry, and what requirements should be set for the companies.

“In addition, we want a range of voices to be part of the conversation. We now hear OccupyEUR, but there are other groups on our campus, too. With such dialogues we can decide together how to solve sustainability issues.”

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The anti-politics of climate change guidelines

The university will organise fourteen dialogues this year to discuss the university's…

In an opinion piece, researchers Irene van Oorschot and Sophie van Balen express their belief that the dialogues will have a predictable outcome: no real consequences for the ties with the fossil fuel industry, just new guidelines for researchers.

“Again, everyone is welcome to contribute their views to the dialogues, so we really don’t know what the outcome will be. Ultimately, you want it to be something that benefits the community. It’s easy to say we’ll stop everything, but we need to think carefully: what future will the companies have? How will we educate our students? By cooperating with specific companies, we could actually make a difference.”

There will be as many as fourteen dialogues. Don’t you think we’re spending too much time debating, with few tangible results?

“It’s not true that there are few results. If you look around, the greening of the campus is in evidence everywhere. We’ve invested in solar panels, sustainable buildings, seasonal thermal energy storage, arrangements for international travel and commuting, and much more. We are the only Dutch university that is systematically inventorying its relationships with the fossil fuel industry. We’ve done quite a bit, and we’ll be doing still more.”

The International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) recently decided to stop accepting money from the fossil fuel industry. Will this decision be adopted at the university level?

“ISS strongly engages with social issues and has been researching sustainability for some time. But other faculties have also taken steps. When I see what has been happening in the education sector in the past year, it makes me very happy. We have six master’s programmes and sixty-four courses in which sustainability is the core theme. There’s always room for improvement and we should strive to realise that, of course, but I mention it to show that we are already doing quite a lot. And together we can do more.”

So the university wants to have an impact but does not want radical change?

“What we are currently doing could be called fairly radical. I do understand it’s not enough, and I agree we could up our game. We want to be a leading university in the field of sustainability. This requires a lot from us, but it isn’t a hopeless cause. We can have great positive impact if we want.”

You sound optimistic.

“I’m optimistic by nature. I don’t want to project powerlessness to young people educated here. We must do what we can, and we try to. On the other hand, this is an immensely complex and worldwide social problem. It requires a variety of actors, and we as a university definitely have a role to play.”

What role can the university have?

“We can demonstrate solid leadership. We can prepare our students to be future leaders of such a big transition. We can teach people how to debate and be receptive of other opinions.

“I really only have one message: keep the dialogue open, because without it we will get nowhere. You can tell I’m a bit of an idealist, but I’m sure there’s nothing wrong with that.”