In the Netherlands United Students and Academics Challenge the University

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It’s been more than three weeks that the deafening silence has broken in the University of Amsterdam (UvA). In the heart of the city, the Maagdenhuis, the university’s main administrative building has been taken by a group of student and staff occupators in a unique joint occupation while the reaction of the administration remains stalling.

The neoliberalization of higher education and the lack of democratic accountability in internal decision-making has pushed students and academics in an UvA-wide movement, unprecedented for the Dutch university standards.

The New University and Humanities Rally

Everything started on February 13. A students’ organization called New University (De Nieuwe Universiteit) and a few staff members barricaded themselves into the Bungehuis, a university building that had just been sold by UvA so as to become a hotel. At the same time a demonstration by members of the group Humanities Rally was taking place. The students, belonging to the faculty of Humanities launched the protest triggered by a new plan of the university, where due to budget cuts they planned to merge multiple bachelor degrees into one liberal arts programme, ending what they call the “specialisation” of degrees.

In the following week, the Executive Board applying a strict approach, threatened the occupiers with a fine of €1.000 each for every day they continue the occupation. This stance of the Executive Board sparked immediate support of staff members, where they signed a statement claiming that they are amongst the occupiers and they should be recipients of the fine as well.

10 days later police forces attempted to evacuate the building and put an end to the protests. On February 24 they arrested 46 occupiers under the jeering sounds of a crowd marching in the entrance. Although the administration hoped that to be the final incident of this unrest, those arrests lead to a diffusion of a more broad and massive dissatisfaction against the administration of UvA.
 

United

The following day a group of protesters broke into Maagdenhuis,the university’s main administrative building and occupied the ground floor, demanding more democratization of the university. The student movement “New University”, the “Humanities Rally” and the academic movement “ReThink UvA” united their voices demanding a total restructuring of higher education, democratization and decentralization of the administration of the university. Since then, there has been a constant stream of teach-in discussions, rallies and other collective activities.

On March 4 the occupiers attempted to address their needs to the UVA Executive Board by sending a letter that consisted two sets of demands. They demand the immediate halt of restructuring processes and sale of UvA property, the issuing of a detailed proposal on democratisation and an inquiry by an independent committee into the university’s finances. More they ask for a further democratisation and major shift away from quantitative output-oriented management of education toward policies based on genuine educational goals.

A week later the Executive Board replied to the occupiers with a vague response, publishing a list of ten points addressing the stewardship and institutional culture of the university. The protesters answered that the response doesn’t address their main demands so they will “continue to work to establish a genuine academic environment – one that strives for actual participation and inclusion beyond the existing consultative bodies.”

The Netherlands biggest trade union federation FNV and the Health Workers Union has also expressed their support solidarity the demands for reform while New University protest groups have now emerged at five other major Dutch campuses. What started as a merely regional debate on university management escalated into a massive movement crossing the national borders, with famous academics like Noam Chomsky and Judith Butler expressing their support to the occupation.

While student branches of “New University” pop up to more universities all over the country, the barricades state “our aim is to ensure that governance and accountability go hand in hand in a collegial environment. In order to maintain the space we have created for this, we will continue our protest.”

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