Universities are not neutral parties, as the rectors thankfully acknowledge as well. The development of knowledge, both regarding the process itself and the consequences for policy and society, is a social process that contains power relations and political implications. Universities are influential societal actors. It is therefore important as an academic community to on the one hand center academic freedom, which allows for a broad spectrum of forms of knowledge and research. On the other hand, shared values are key for a university to not let our position be used for the wrong ends.

Yet we cannot assume that our societal influence is positive by default, even if that is a self-image we would like to have. When people offer well-founded arguments against institutional collaboration, we should dare to take a stance. This could mean imposing strict conditions for a potential partnership or deciding to cut institutional ties. It is insufficient to let this be dismissed by an unelected board.

Our field of study, transitions research, offers a useful perspective on the societal responsibility of universities. We understand societal systems change as a process of build-up and breakdown, in which the untenable status quo (e.g. fossil-fuel energy) is destabilised and networks of alternative practices emerge. To destabilise a status quo requires external pressure . It is also important to find tipping points with persons within the institutions, under clear conditions to prevent capture and co-optation of real change (think of greenwashing).

This is how climate activists and their allies in various universities, including the EUR, have started a systems change in curricula and business operations. This same process is now taking shape for ties to Israel, but in contrast to climate change the Executive Board does not seem to want to respond concretely to the actions of the Israeli regime and the interrelatedness of Israeli universities with said regime.

This background already demonstrates why limiting or ending collaborations is legitimate: destabilisation and breakdown are essential elements of societal change and additionally offer room for new ways of working. In our own practice, we have certainly also experienced how tense this process can be. After all, this does not concern mere differences of opinion, but deep convictions about politics and justice which can clash strongly.

Yet it is still possible and necessary to work through these convictions to reach clear agreements based on the factual situation and our shared values. Within our institute for example, we have debated the role of the fossil fuel industry and concluded that we cannot collaborate with these companies so long as they do not reorient their strategy towards a radical shift away from fossil fuels. From a broader perspective there are now also plenty of universities and institutes who are ceasing their collaborations with Israeli institutions, so long as the latter are structurally complicit in the violation of Palestinian human rights.

The Erasmus University should therefore show courage rather than ending the conversation from the top down.

The university is a community with shared values and an important societal position. Acknowledge that destabilisation and breakdown of a status quo are elements of change and do not base the discussion on a problematic understanding of academic freedom. Instead, be honest about the facts: crimes against humanity and the destruction of knowledge institutions in Palestine by the Israeli military, with which the Israeli universities have close institutional ties. Hear the well-grounded call of Palestinians, supported by our students and faculty, to boycott these universities on an institutional level so long as they remain complicit.

These substantive arguments should form the basis for our consideration as an academic community on how we can live up to our shared values.

De auteurs zijn onderzoekers van het aan de Erasmus Universiteit gelieerde instituut Drift, dat onderzoek doet naar transities.

11edag_9juni2024_B3_einde protest palestina gaza campus plaza studenten politie ontruiming ME wegsturen_21_9.6.24_Daan Stam

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