Calimero won’t bow to pressure

A RUG college campus in Yantai, China has been called off. The five students of Lijst Calimero in the University Council played a crucial role in this matter. ‘Students can put these things in a broader perspective.’
By Thereza Langeler and Rob Siebelink

For months, they were the undecided factor in the Yantai plans: the five students who make up political party Lijst Calimero. Student parties SOG and DAG, respectively, had already shown themselves to be favourably for and vehemently against. But Calimero’s vote could still go either way. On Monday, they finally announced their decision: Calimero was against the plans, and Yantai did not get a majority vote in the University Council.

Critics have said that it’s ridiculous that a few students have the power to end a project in which  millions of euros and so much time and energy have already been invested.

‘That’s just how democracy works. We are elected representatives; the University Council demanded a right to consent. Anyone who disagrees with that can talk to the minister or the Board of Directors. I think it’s a good thing that people from outside the organisation have a say in matters. Staff are always answerable to their superiors. Students can put these things in a broader perspective.’

‘I strongly disagree with that Chinese professor’s statements in the Volkskrant about participation in decision-making, or his view that students have a limited and selfish perspective. I am not doing this for me; I wouldn’t have joined the council if that were the case. I am doing this for people who are currently still in secondary school and who will be going to university later. I would have graduated by the time Yantai were to start. How am I doing this for me?’

But China means money, and money means academic research.

‘Maybe it’s part of my nature, but I don’t really believe in these kinds of assumptions. I’m convinced this is the right decision to make. The faction is unanimous on the issue. We have prevented the university from making a mistake. Sure, some people are saying that there’s money to be made, and that China is a big and powerful country. So what? Our priority has to be the quality of degrees and education in Groningen.

‘Calimero was founded thirteen years ago. It was meant for ‘normal’ students, who didn’t want join associations or storm the barricades. We are here for students who want to get an education.  We’re a faction that serves students, not civil servants.

Is it a David versus Goliath situation? The inverse Calimero, ‘I is big and they are small?’

Wondergem laughs. ‘That’s a bit of an exaggeration. But it’s true that we didn’t join in the craze and stayed close to our roots. We looked at the proposal very matter-of-factly. We just weren’t convinced. I’m proud of our faction.’

Did you ever lie awake because of the responsibility of it all?

‘Sometimes. When I offered myself up for election last year, I took into account the possibility that I would have to make this decision. We’ve put in so much time and effort. It wasn’t until November that we truly reached a decision. We were critical of the plan, but that point there was still a possibility that we would vote in favour.

Many people thought that you would come around.

‘That’s not how it works. We have an opinion. If you want to change it, you have to come up with better arguments. Not different ones; better ones. It’s not like we decide one way or another over drinks.

How have people responded to your negative vote?

‘We’ve had so many discussions. People have asked us if we knew what we were doing. I’m not too worried about the superficial opinions of people who don’t know the case that well. What frustrates me, however, is the fact that the student organisations of the Faculty of Science and Engineering (who were supposed to start in Yantai – ed.) had already been informed of our decision before we made that decision public. FSE was put up against us. That’s just not right.’

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