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Academic year starts with a protest: is this the new normal?

The opening of this academic year symbolised the new normal at the UG in many ways, ranging from the negative consequences from the exponential growth to rector Cisca Wijmenga’s appeal to protect academic freedom.

Monday afternoon saw the opening of the academic year, and it was finally celebrated in person after everything had been online for a year. But it wasn’t quite the same as always: the formal procession from the Academy building to the Martini church consisted of only thirty professors and a single representative for each student association, which meant it was a lot smaller than before the corona pandemic. 

Student association Vindicat was conspicuously absent. After being banned from attending official events for the past two years, the association was accredited again at the start of the summer. That means they were allowed to attend the procession this year. It’s unclear why they didn’t send a representative.

Photo: The procession on the streets of Groningen, with rector magnificus Cisca Wijmenga behind the beadles.

People were only allowed to remove their face masks once they were all seated far apart in the Martini church. Everyone kept their distance and no one shook hands. It was a great example of the ‘new normal’.

Protest

Before the procession entered the Martini church, the academic top encountered another example of the ‘new normal’. Shelter Our Students, the student and youth association collaboration that is concerned with the room shortage in the city, held up large banners in front of the church. 

Using slogans such as ‘free emergency housing now’ and ‘10,000 hours of unpaid labor every day’, they protesting the negative consequences of the growth of the university over the past years. 

At the start of this academic years, hundreds of students are still lacking permanent housing. The growth is also causing the already overworked lecturers even more work stress. According to calculations made by student organisation DAG last year, lecturers work more than ten thousand unpaid hours a year just to keep up with the educational needs of students.

Rector Wijmenga: ‘Universities should always be places where academics can work in freedom.’

Academic freedom

As though the room shortage and work stress weren’t enough, Cisca Wijmenga also announced another instance of the ‘new normal’: the increasing criticism that scientists and academic face when they take a substantiated stand.

In her speech, Wijmenga defended academic freedom. In this age of societal changes due to the corona pandemic and climate change, scientists and academics are asked to come up with explanations and solutions.

Not buckle

‘Let me be clear’, said Wijmenga, ‘universities should always allow academics to work in total freedom. No matter the research topic: we cannot, we should not, buckle under external pressure. In spite of the pressure from other people to think or do something.’

Wijmenga’s words, the corona restrictions, the consequences of the university’s growth: it’s an auspicious start of the year.

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