Friesland puts UG on the spot: let us participate or we’ll leave

The province of Friesland has demanded that the Frisian language be given its full due at the UG. The province also wants to have a say in determining who becomes the new professor of Frisian linguistics and literature. 

If the UG continues to deny them this ‘participatory role’, the province will turn its back on the university. So says the Frisian provincial board in a letter written entirely in Frisian, addressed to Thony Visser, the dean of the Faculty of Arts, which the Frisian linguistics and literature programme falls under.

Together with the government, the province contributes 220,000 euros to the Frisian study programme at the UG, which according to them makes them ‘an important financer’ of Frisian academic education. 

According to the letter, Frisian is the Netherlands’ official second language and plays an important role in society. However, they accuse the UG of not taking that ‘important role’ seriously. 

Autonomous position

Central issue in the letter is the chair of Frisian linguistics and literature. The current professor, Goffe Jensma, will be retiring next year. The Provincial Executive of Friesland says the chair is at risk of becoming lost ‘to a bigger narrative of minorities and multilingualism’, losing its autonomous position. The Frisians say this is unacceptable.

The Frisian study programme became an elective or a minor in 2012, part of the bachelor programme in minorities and multilingualism. This was done because the Frisian programme had very few students and was at risk of disappearing altogether.

As part of a broad bachelor, the Frisian study programme could continue to exist. Several other small language studies, such as Hungarian, Danish, Finnish, and Norwegian, did shut down.

Former glory

The province says the time has come to restore the Frisian language to its former glory so it’s no longer a track within a language master programme. ‘It was always our intention to ensure that the Frisian study programme became whole and independent again’, the provincial board said.

Before the summer started, the province of Friesland demanded a say in hiring a new professor of Frisian linguistics and literature to succeed Goffe Jensma. They did so again in their letter. They want to be involved in creating a profile and naming the members of the assessment committee. 

But the UG has already said it’s not interested: the university is principally opposed to outside parties having a say in how to fill positions. 

Exceptional position

The province of Friesland countered that it’s not unusual for parties who fund a chair to be involved in filling the position. Besides, they said, the Frisian chair isn’t an ordinary one, ‘considering the exceptional position of Frisian as a second state language’. ‘It’s not an unreasonable request to involve us in the procedure.’

The university itself is responsible for the position of Frisian in academic education, the letter reads, ‘but we’re formally responsible for the way this duty is carried out’.

‘Committee of Frisians’

The Frisian Provincial Executive also suggests creating a ‘committee of Frisians’ to provide the province, central government, and the university with advice ‘concerning the optimal position of Frisian in higher education’. The province has already made a list of the six committee members, one of whom is retiring professor Goffe Jensma.

The Frisian provincial board writes that they currently ‘have faith that we can make things work’. But if the parties can’t, the Provincial Executive warns, ‘we’ll be reconsidering the future of the Frisian study programme and whether it might prove more suitable to a different university’. 


Arts dean Thony Visser confirms the existence of the letter. She can’t comment on it yet, as it first has to be translated and then discussed with the faculty board. Tellingly, the letter was only written in Frisian. 

Concerning the squabbling about appointing a professor of Frisian linguistics and literature, Visser said in an earlier article in UKrant: ‘The appointment procedure for new professors is done along very specific guidelines and follows a distinct course. This is the case at every Dutch university. It’s impossible for us to assign a role to an external, non-academic party in this process.’

In the same article, Visser said she didn’t understand the worries the province of Friesland has. She emphasised that the arts faculty puts a lot of stock in the Frisian char. ‘We absolutely want to hire an expert in the Frisian language and culture for the Frisian chair position. We wouldn’t hire someone who specialises in, say, Italian.’


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