[three important updates below]
At the UvA, history repeats itself as a series of farces. In the immediate aftermath of the Maagdenhuis occupation, in April 2015, nine UvA colleagues started a counter-petition to support the CvB against an earlier petition asking for the latter’s resignation. In contrast to the original petition, the counter petition was sent around through official UvA channels – at least at the Faculty of Law, Amsterdam University College and the Faculty of Economics and Business. The deans of the two first promptly apologized for what they recognized as an abuse of access to official email lists.
Fast forward to November 2016. With the referendum on the democratisation and decentralisation of the university already under way, we are witnessing a return of the farce. Shortly before the start of the referendum, the new Dean of the Faculty of Law, together with his colleagues from the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences and the Faculty of Economics and Business, wrote letter to the head of the D&D committee, in which they declare the referendum unsound, and they subtly suggest a boycott. The Deans did not discuss this with the medezeggenschap in advance, but took the liberty to send this letter to the students and staff of their faculties, thus abusing their power to spread their personal opinions as widely as possible, and this at a crucial moment. As the committee’s report was presented exactly a month ago, there has been ample opportunity to raise these concerns long before the referendum started.
It is significant – but probably not surprising – that some of those who benefit the most from the status quo turn out to be most afraid of change. This is especially striking since action groups such as ReThink, Humanities Rally, DNU and University of Color are called ‘unfair’ simply for hanging a poster promoting the green model in a shared office space. Everyone can judge for themselves which of these actions is more unfair given the distribution of power within the university. The referendum itself was also called unfair (in public discussions as well as in Folia articles and comments) for not including the option of an even more centralised university structure.This argument betrays an interesting understanding of democracy: If you want to suggest changes in one direction, apparently you have to offer changes in the opposite direction as well. More democracy and participation? – please add more authoritarianism to the options as well!
In addition to the letter of the Deans, a group of eight colleagues, partly overlapping with the ones who started and circulated the counter-petition in 2015, sent around a strong endorsement for one of the models (not surprisingly the blue one, which stands for the current governance model). Acting more wisely than the deans, they seem to not have used the official UvA channels for spreading their “advice” this time. Considering the letter of the deans, however, it seems more than ironic that they claim that the current governance model offers “sufficient possibilities for consultation and participation”. It all depends on your perspective!
”What model of democracy and participation is put forward here? Obviously, democracy – or, more modestly: increasing the possibilities for faculty, staff and students to take part in discussions and decision-making whose results directly affect them – is not much appreciated by the people defending the status quo. Only last week, Han van der Maas (who, to his credit, is one of the few who is willing to join the discussion instead of trolling the referendum in anonymous comments) wrote an article for Folia in which he called for a boycott of the referendum. His main argument (next to the alleged unfairness of the options on the agenda) was that only those that know all the in-and-outs of all the faculties, academic career tracks as well as the details of the WUB and MUB should participate in the referendum. This, of course, is one of the oldest arguments against democracy: People are simply too incompetent to take such essential decisions themselves, so we have to leave them to experts. We wonder what van der Maas will recommend next time we can vote in a national election in which such complex issues as nuclear energy, climate change, or the war in Syria are at stake, but it is of particular irony that faculty, staff and students are deemed to be unqualified to vote on the structure of the university they constitute. In a somewhat surprising volte-face, van der Maas now comes out as one of the signatories of a letter endorsing the blue model. We seem to have something like Schrödinger’s professor, advising us to ‘vote blue’ while boycotting the referendum. It is hard to determine what to make of such contradictory positions in terms of voter competence, but we can deduce the following message: “Dear colleagues and students, follow the advice brought to you through the monopolised media channels of the university, support the status quo, and above all, do not waste your precious time on democracy”. To this we respond with a slogan of the Suffragettes: “For the work of a day; for the taxes we pay; for the laws we obey; we want something to say.”
Once again we haven been proven too trusting in the forces of the status quo. It turns out that the blue-endorsing letter, too, has been distributed through official departmental mailing lists. We have proof of at least one department where this happened, but if you have more information we are happy to receive it at firstname.lastname@example.org. Oh, and you might want to take back control.
Folia has done some excellent digging and comes up with at least three more departments where official channels have been used. Respect for their hard work.
And we have another one! This email was sent by a departmental director, inviting staff to go out and vote (which is perfectly fine) but he accompanies this get-out-to-vote email with the endorsement of the blue model.