Issued by Louise J. Gunning-Schepers, president of the Executive Board
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me start by saying that I regret the fact that things have reached a point where a university building had to be forcibly evacuated by the police earlier today. We didn’t want it to come this far. We have done everything in our power in recent days to prevent such a situation from happening.
We have held extensive negotiations over the last few days, including with the assistance of the mayor. We agreed not to make a public statement, to remain quiet, and that is what we did. Several extensive talks between a delegation of the protestors and the UvA’s Executive Board led to a draft agreement. This would have ended the occupation, but some of the protestors were unable to agree to the concessions. This blocked all avenues other than an eviction.
I would like to return to the very beginning and shed some light on the Executive Board’s considerations.
This is the third occupation in a row; the first ended with talks, the second involved the UvA’s Spinhuis building.
I am sure some of you remember this incident. A few months ago a contingent of the Bungehuis protest group squatted in the Spinhuis. We held numerous, extensive talks with the squatters, made several offers and attempted to come to an agreement. All to no avail. In the end we had to turn to the court, which the second time around ruled in favour of the UvA and ordered the squatters (this was indeed a squat) to vacate the Spinhuis.
At the Spinhuis, however, a vacant part of the building was squatted. The Bungehuis is a different matter, which is why we made a different decision. We are also responsible for teaching and research. Hundreds of people study and work here. This is why the Bungehuis must remain accessible to them.
Nevertheless, we also realised that this student group raises legitimate concerns about the modern university, about education, and maybe also about some of the decisions we as the Executive Board have taken. They wished to discuss these issues. That’s possible, that’s allowed, that’s good, and there is room to do so. But we didn’t want to have such a discussion while the Bungehuis remained occupied.
There are also important topics about the university on the political agenda: the penalty for extended duration of study, the Student Loan Law (Wet Studievoorschot) and the soon-to-be released Strategic Agenda for Higher Education, Research and Science (Strategische Agenda hoger onderwijs, onderzoek en wetenschap).
Hence our offer to provide the protestors with an alternative site to hold talks and our promise to discuss the concerns they would like raise. The agendas for this were already being finalised.
The impression was created that we were unwilling to talk. This is simply not true. We wanted to talk, but just not in the Bungehuis.
The impression was also created that we were refusing to make concessions. This is also not true. We merely did not, and do not, wish to do so in such haste, under such pressure and without the involvement and approval of all the other university bodies that have a say in such matters: the student council, the works council, the faculty deans and the directors of education.
Because a deadlock eventually occurred, we decided to approach the court while remaining committed to continuing with the debates about the university. The reason we turned to the court was to ensure that the Bungehuis would once again be made available for work and study. Unfortunately, this was construed as a show of force, which I deeply regret. It was about the continuity of education and research, not about avoiding dialogue. The judicially imposed penalty is in line with legal norms, but created the wrong impression. I freely admit this. This should have been tackled differently.
After the university had won the legal case, we were expecting the protestors to leave and to enter into dialogue. This was a misconception, which I regret.
The subsequent talks with the mayor were constructive and the commitments we made were genuine.
Which brings me to the last point: the perception or suggestion that we merely wish to organise a chat club as a way to rid ourselves of this matter without making any concessions. This pains me.
Yes, on a number of issues we refused to make concessions beforehand. But those who know me will attest that I do not organise a debate merely to listen. To be quite honest, I consider the suggestion an insult to the value of academic debate and to the history of this university.
This history – the parallels are obvious today – brings me to the future. Yes, we’re willing to face the issues. No, we’re not afraid of a debate. Yes, we’re willing to make changes on a number of fronts. And yes, there are several issues about which we agree and on which we can cooperate.
I previously already mentioned the proliferation of part-time employment contracts. We already discussed the use of referenda in faculties, and perhaps the most important: I, too, am of the opinion that in some respects university funding is too heavily centred on quantity and not enough on quality. The focus on ‘returns’ to which the protestors refer must be vigorously discussed. We need to raise these issues, especially now that the future of universities is on the political agenda in The Hague.