The UG is allowed to fire cognitive sciences lecturer Tjeerd Andringa, the Groningen subdistrict court decided. According to the external investigation into Andringa which UKrant and de Volkskrant acquired, his teaching practices didn’t meet academic standards and he didn’t provide a safe learning environment for his students.
The research agency’s findings are clear as day: Andringa used too many one-sided, ‘alternative’ sources, didn’t coach students sufficiently on how to put these sources in an actual academic context, and didn’t engender a proper discussion of the study materials.
‘His methods do not meet the academic standards for education geared towards first-year students’, the investigative committee concluded.
Andringa was suspended on January 31 last year because he was suspected of using the University College Groningen course Systems View of Life to teach conspiracy theories. After UKrant published an article in January of last year the UG announced an independent investigation into the matter.
In the article, former students said that Andringa pushed unscientific claims and conspiracy theories on them. The students said this happened during course hours as well as extracurricular meetings at his house.
According to the students, Andringa barely allowed students to retort to his teachings, if at all. UKrant also has access to assignments graded by Andringa, which show that he mainly gave positive feedback on students embracing his alternative theories. Anyone who didn’t was heavily criticised.
The independent investigation into Andringa was concluded last summer but was kept under wraps until now. UKrant and de Volkskrant gained access to the report on Thursday after a joint appeal to the Open Government Act.
The investigative committee, chaired by Leiden professor Paul van der Heijden, confirms every single story the students told UKrant last year. ‘In the Systems View of Life course, Andringa taught theories that weren’t properly anchored in academia.’
‘Andringa wanted his students to “listen respectfully” to the alternative philosophies and theories. He did not focus on teaching his students how to place these philosophies and theories in the context of the current state of academia.’
While the investigative committee does admit that alternative theories have a place in academic education, they say they require ‘proper scientific embedding’, as well as proper coaching for students. The committee also says published criticism of the theories should be discussed. All these things were lacking in Andringa’s course.
Concerning support for students, the investigators say Andringa’s course was not a safe learning environment. The students lacked the freedom to exchange different views and arguments, the committee writes.
The investigative committee concludes from the students’ feedback that Andringa ‘didn’t properly take into account the dependence and power imbalance between lecturer and students’. The committee says that his way of teaching is at odds with ‘the care with which lecturers should treat (first-year) students’.
On top of that, the students didn’t know whether or not he agreed with the alternative theories he presented. ‘Based on this, the committee concludes that conspiracy theories played an improper role in his teachings.’
‘Relationship has ended’
The university took the report as justification to take its leave of Andringa, says a UG spokesperson. ‘His way of teaching doesn’t meet the academic standards at the UG. That meant our relationship had ended.’
Andringa doesn’t agree, but the subdisctrict judge decided in favour of the UG.
In response to his dismissal and the investigative report being made public, Andringa posted a 42-minute video about him being ‘cancelled by the University of Groningen’. In the video, he argues that he merely presented his students with ‘conflicting insights’. According to him, he was fired because his approach undermined ‘educational bureaucrats’ fundamental strategy of social imitation’.
One important question remains: how was Andringa, who started at the University College Groningen in 2017, able to keep going for so long without anyone interfering? The investigative committee says that the quality assurance system ‘as a whole was functioning properly’.
Nevertheless, quite a bit of time passed before anything happened after the first complaint in December 2020, the educational director didn’t take the lead, and lecturers didn’t talk about their colleague’s methods. ‘It was “his” course and people didn’t want to interfere.’