Every day, the editorial staff at the UKrant wonders: What are we writing about, why are we writing about it, and how are we writing about it? ‘At UKrant’, an irregular column, we take a look behind the scenes. This time we take a closer look at the story on Tjeerd Andringa.
Over the past few weeks, UKrant published several news and background pieces on University College Groningen (UCG) lecturer Tjeerd Andringa’s ‘trap of fabrications’. As a result, Andringa has been suspended pending an investigation.
The articles caused quite a commotion. At the UG itself, obviously, at other universities, but also in the rest of the country and even internationally: American, Italian, and Belgian media all picked up the story.
We received hundreds of responses, most of them angry, and most of them angry at UKrant. Many anti-vaxxers, conspiracy nuts, fake news believers, etc., defended Andringa, who they felt was the embodiment of academic freedom (or rather, proof that it died a long time ago). According to them, UKrant represents the ‘people’s court’, which ‘slates’ and ‘demonises’ people.
Honestly, they were exactly the kind of reactions you’d expect from people like that. A little more surprising was the fact that some people from within the UG reacted incredulously. Current and former students of Andringa, as well as lecturers and other staff complained that our reporting was one-sided, poorly substantiated, a frame job, or incorrect.
A short Google search showed us that Andringa has a few ‘interesting’ opinions
One of UCG’s/Andringa’s students even went to the trouble of finding out my cell number and texted me: ‘You crossed a line, you should be ashamed of it. Everything for the clicks, right?’
One employee, who did not work at UCG, said that reporting on the case means UKrant shares responsibility for the unsafe work environment. Another remarked: It’s not up to a university newspaper to publicly rebuke and pillory UG employees and colleagues; only official authorities can judge them. UKrant should just stick to fun, happy little articles.
But what happened exactly? How did this story come to fruition? Let’s go back to the beginning.
In November 2021 (three months before we published our first article; we definitely did our due diligence), several students approached us with the story of their lecturer Tjeerd Andringa’s controversial way of teaching.
A short Google search showed us that Andringa has a few ‘interesting’ opinions and that he’s not afraid to showcase them: that there’s a link between vaccines and autism, that you should not believe the official explanation of what happened on 9/11 and that the idea that world leaders and high-ranking CEOs are consuming children’s blood is very likely true.
The lecturer who teaches about conspiracy theories turned out to believe in them himself
We thoroughly went through and analysed every website, blog, vlog, and YouTube video that Andringa appears in. We couldn’t have a clearer picture of who he is. The lecturer who teaches about conspiracy theories turned out to believe in them himself.
The question then arises of whether someone like that should actually be teaching at a university, since few of these things should be taught in an academic setting. Then again, it’s his personal opinion, and everyone has a right to those.
But we couldn’t help but wonder whether he really kept his personal opinion out of the classroom.
Over the next few weeks, we talked to both former and current students of Andringa’s. It quickly turned out that some of them were concerned. They talked about their bewilderment at the way he presented debatable ideas as truth, about how they felt intimidated, about the random manner in which Andringa graded their assignments (people who agreed with his views got a higher grades than people who didn’t).
Just to be clear, there are plenty of students who love Andringa. They think he’s a good and committed lecturer who brings something extra to the table, they say. I’d like to point out that we made note of these positive testimonials more than once in our articles.
A week before we published our first piece, it turned out that Andringa had been taken off the course
During our investigation, it became clear that the UCG faculty board was well aware of what Andringa was doing and that he had set off alarms before. When we presented our findings to the board, a little less than a week before we published our first piece, it turned out that Andringa, who’d already been teaching under supervision, had in fact already been taken off the course.
In short, our article had nothing to do with that, but the faculty board had decided not to make their decision public.
It goes without saying that UKrant provided Andringa every opportunity to respond and share his views, to elucidate, explain, clarify. At the time, Andringa decided to suffice with a quote from Aristotle. A week later, he organised an online press conference himself.
It is our job as a journalistic medium to ask questions and dig into things that might just be a little bit fishy, or even a lot. We need to do so with great scrutiny, and there is nothing that suggests to me that we failed.
Having said that, I want to clarify that at no point was UKrant out to knowingly attack Andringa. But we do want to prevent students from being harmed by, or at, the university.
Rob Siebelink, editor-in-chief UKrant