University
Tjeerd Andringa. Still from ´How do you see the huge gap between government(s) and us in the corona crisis?´, a Bluetiger.studio video on YouTube

The alternative truths of Tjeerd Andringa

Leading freshmen into the conspiracy trap

Tjeerd Andringa. Still from ´How do you see the huge gap between government(s) and us in the corona crisis?´, a Bluetiger.studio video on YouTube
Associate professor of cognitive science Tjeerd Andringa, of the University College Groningen, is no longer allowed to teach his course on ‘critical thinking’. Not only was he teaching students about conspiracy theories, but he was also converting them to his own ‘alternative truth’.
By Alessandro Tessari & Christien Boomsma
26 January om 11:22 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 4 February 2022
om 10:03 uur.
January 26 at 11:22 AM.
Last modified on February 4, 2022
at 10:03 AM.

When first-year UCG student Michael started the course Systems View on Life, taught by Tjeerd Andringa, he was afraid of climate change. He worried about temperatures rising and CO2 emissions going up.

After the course, he felt better. ‘I may be able to cross climate change off of the ever-growing list of uncontrollable dangers to human life’, he wrote in a short essay. Michael had realised how important CO2 was for life on earth. He also decided to use more alternative sources of media from now on, as he just discovered those were less biased. 

His lecturer, associate professor of cognitive science Andringa, was pleased, because ‘alternative media had a much broader range of topics’. ‘And if you know how to find them the quality is much better, as well.’ He complimented the student on his work: ‘You listened really well. You opened your mind to possibilities and you are entertaining new thoughts.’

Sharpen minds

Andringa has been teaching the course Systems View on Life for several years. According to Ocasys, it was supposed to help students ‘learn to reason like an academic’, and give them a crash course in how to ‘synthesise insights’ and develop an ‘interesting or profound and defendable idea independently’. To achieve such goals, Andringa provided controversial theories and standpoints to sharpen the students’ minds.

But he also changed those minds. And students having doubts didn’t necessarily feel free to express them. So much so that the UCG board – after an official warning – decided to cancel the course that should have started on February 7. 

‘The last iteration of the course was supervised’, UCG managing director Sander van den Bos admits. ‘On the basis of what we saw, we decided that this was no longer on the improvement track and we chose not to provide the course anymore.’

Pattern

Andringa’s other courses are also being looked into. ‘UCG has to look at the general pattern of teaching through quality assurance, that’s a long ongoing process. When we get signals like this, UCG has to investigate further’, says Van den Bos.

The material made me question which other foundations might be operating in a similar way, with philanthropic missions as the “cover-up”

A student of Andringa in a course assignment

That first-year students were influenced by Andringa’s world views is clear from the assignments that students did for the course last February, as well as from Andringa’s comments on them. These documents are in the possession of UKrant.

One student wrote a short piece after seeing videos on How Big Oil Changed the World – basically about the idea that big money elites like the Rockefellers are investing in Big Pharma and education to use them to keep citizens stupid and pliable. 

Manipulate

‘The material made me question which other foundations might be operating in a similar way, with philanthropic missions as the “cover-up”’, the student said. ‘For instance, I had to think of the “Bezos Academy”, a tuition-free preschool funded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Having influence over the tuition of such young children could provide Bezos with a large amount of power, as children are easier than older people to manipulate to suit your needs in the future.’

Again, Andringa was pleased with his students’ enlightenment. ‘Yep’, he wrote in a comment. ‘Did you know the Saudi royals did exactly the same? They fund Muslim schools all over the world.’

Yet another student was shocked to find that ‘there are some extremely powerful people hiding behind the doors of society and are playing the world like ventriloquists’.

‘Yes’, comments Andringa in his remark. ‘Apparently many allow themselves to be played like this. Will you?’

Disrespectful

But when one student did not buy the material he presented to them on vaccination causing autism, she was scolded for it. ‘Ouch. So disrespectful’, Andringa commented. ‘So where do you base yourself on? […] She [the scientist in the video] is highly proficient and, more importantly, she has published a lot in the field.’

The material was mainly against vaccination, against climate change and so on

Clive, a student of Andringa

The student then asked Andringa how she might best convince someone like this scientist, who was raising the alarm about autism and vaccination, without polarising the discussion. 

But Andringa was not helpful at all. ‘Maybe you should allow yourself to grow’, he commented on her question. The scientist in the video had thought ‘way longer and deeper’ about the subject than the student had. Andringa ended by saying: ‘You can learn a lot from [this scientist]. Maybe you should.’ 

One-sided

‘The way such delicate topics were dealt with was dangerous’, says Clive, one of Andringa’s students at UCG. The material offered by Andringa was one-sided, he says. ‘Maybe he thought we would get the other side of the story from more mainstream channels, but still, the material was mainly against vaccination, against climate change [being caused by humanity red.] and so on.’

When Clive criticised the material linking vaccination to autism, he was scolded for it. ‘You should update your views’, Andringa commented. 

Andringa’s classes had the appearance of encouraging students to think critically. In reality, there was only one truth, and that truth was Andringa’s. And even though he always presented different viewpoints alongside each other, even though he said every opinion was allowed and it was the arguments that counted, he was clearly on a mission to convince students.

There’s a fine line between critical discussion and proselytism, agrees one of the students that took the course last year. ‘It is dangerous, especially when dealing with first-year students’

Reason

A danger that is made even bigger by Andringa’s popularity, which is considerable. ‘He is a very good lecturer in raising a point and inquiring students on why they actually believe something’, says Jackie, a student from the 2017-2018 class. ‘Thus, he pushes you to reason.’

‘He is very close to his students and I feel he really invests time to understand them’, says Charlie, who took his class in 2020. ‘Having to engage critically on a different and unusual topic every week really taught me the skill of critical thinking.’

Andringa is also far from average. He has a PhD in mathematics and natural sciences but became renowned for his work in acoustics and sound perception. He started the high-tech company Sound Intelligence and developed an app for music festivals before joining UCG in 2014 to teach students to ‘explore the challenges of modern society’. 

Despite

But from his ‘Meet the staff’ page at UCG, it is clear that his worldview differs from that of most UG academics. For instance, Andringa says his biggest achievement is having become an independent thinker: ‘I did that really by myself, despite the education and the media I was exposed to’, he writes.

Aristocrats and priests must have discovered a long time ago that abused children lead to useful adult servants

Tjeerd Andringa

He is also open on his favourite podcasts: shows like the Corbett Report, the Boiling Frogs Post and Red Ice Radio, all so-called ‘alternative journalism’. The Red Ice multimedia group, for example, was described in 2018 by the CNN as a conspiratorial, white supremacist, and white nationalist media outlet.

He wants to convey his way of thinking to his students, too. ‘I love to teach critical thinking and connect that to controversial perspectives that challenge the norm and hence help to figure out what part of our shared knowledge is only weakly supported or inconsistent’, he states on the UG website. 

Slaves

One of these controversial perspectives is his belief in the theory of ‘kakistocracy’ – which includes the idea that governing elites systematically abuse children to make them more pliable. ‘Aristocrats and priests must have discovered a long time ago that abused children lead to useful adult servants’, Andringa wrote back in 2015. ‘Slaves, actually.’

In later interviews, Andringa agrees it is ‘highly likely’ that intelligence agencies would organise sex parties with children to recruit new members for this kakistocracy. ‘We only have anecdotal evidence’, he says, referring to, among others, the Dutroux affair and the Jimmy Savile affair. ‘But it does seem likely. Governments seem to be better in covering up their own sordid business than in dealing with it.’

Furthermore, Andringa does not believe in the ‘official’ 9/11 story, and he stated that governments organise terrorist attacks on their own people, just to instil fear in their citizens, which would make them more pliable. 

Mainstream media

Then there is his private website Geopolitics and Cognition. The website has not been updated in quite a while, but it is still linked to his bio on the UG website. ‘Many of the topics of this website are highly unpalatable for those who prefer to not to think critically about their (actual) authorities: it addresses many topics typically avoided, trivialised, ignored, or even outright lied about in the mainstream media’, he warns his readers. ‘This will prevent your world view from being influenced and defiled by scientific and other facts and critical thoughts. This is the comfortable thing to do.’

The UCG board knew about Andringa’s teachings and beliefs. Nevertheless, he was allowed to discuss conspiracy theories with first-years. The fact that he was a physicist rather than a philosopher or a sociologist teaching systems of life and society and critical thinking was apparently not a problem either. 

‘It is not uncommon for teachers to move outside the field they are usually interested in. It is something we encourage’, Van den Bos says. ‘If we would only allow teachers teaching in their field, we would not be a liberal arts college.’

Actions

Still, the board has taken ‘different actions’ over the last years. ‘But it is a process and a very careful one. We also have to take into account that UCG promotes critical thought and academic freedom, so these things do not happen overnight, they are long processes.’

Andringa shared his views on vaccination, ‘the dominance of the Jew’ and conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11

Students of Andringa

Controversial opinions like the ones Andringa discussed in his class need to be discussed in a broader perspective, with room for discussion, says the Board. Students should always feel safe to share their opinion. ‘We are not always in the classroom, but via educational quality assurance UCG is trying to see what has been taught and how it has been taught. Teaching students about critical thinking is important, but it has to be done within ethical boundaries’, Van den Bos says. 

Vaccination

However, students in Andringa’s class did not always feel safe to speak their minds, which became apparent to the UCG board when one of them filed a report with the confidential advisor a little over a year ago. The confidential advisor then approached the board.

That student had attended extracurricular classes in the fall of 2020 at De Stadsakker, the sustainably run farm of Andringa’s wife at the edge of town. 

No Covid rules were followed, no attendance records kept. What did happen was that Andringa spoke to students, giving his views on vaccination, ‘the dominance of the Jew’ and conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11. According to Charlie, who attended the session, he explained: ‘If a vaccine becomes required for everyday business, I will ask my GP to inject me with saline instead and count me as vaccinated.’

Reprimanded

The board took the report very seriously and called Andringa on the carpet. After a couple of talks – in which Andringa expressed his disdain for bureaucracy, dismissed his student’s complaint as a manifestation of ‘cancel culture’, and made statements in which he seemed to search for the boundaries of criminal law, like the ban on anti-Semitism – he was oficially reprimanded. Andringa’s teachings were to be supervised for three years.

There is a certain quality and lines we follow to make sure that we teach what we want to teach

Sander van den Bos, UCG managing director

Not because of the topic, Van den Bos stresses. ‘I am perfectly fine disagreeing in an academic context. But there is a certain quality and lines we follow to make sure that we teach what we want to teach.’

Cancel culture

Twenty-one of Andringa’s students rushed to his aid and wrote a letter of support directed to the UCG board. However, one of those students later confirmed that Andringa himself had encouraged them to do so. 

In the end, they did not send the letter, as some students were hesitant as to the effect the letter might have considering that the summer break was approaching; although they stated they feared a ‘cancel culture’ at UCG. 

‘Our concerns lie in the fact that a liberal arts and sciences education relies on entertaining narratives that are out of one’s comfort zone or differ from the norm, or that are of higher scientific quality than mainstream narratives’, the students wrote. ‘UCG students need to be challenged in order to sharpen their mind and develop an independent way of thinking and a critical mindset to face the challenges of modern society.’

Hostile

Other students did feel Andringa had crossed the line. Like the one who spoke of a ‘hostile environment’ in class when it came to saying anything that went against the videos the students were presented with. Others felt offended by the way he commented on their assignments. 

‘Looking back at it now’, Jackie says, ‘if you are someone whose knowledge and opinions are not well-formed and structured, you are likely to believe anything your teacher tells you, especially if you are a first-year student.’

After the signals the UCG board received from both students and quality assurance, they reached the same conclusion. ‘It took a long time of supervision and observation’, they explain, ‘but we suspended the course. Now, we are investigating further, and we expect to conclude this process by the end of the academic year.’

UKrant extensively interviewed eight of Andringa’s former students and spoke to an additional four. We studied letters and course feedback on Systems View of Life that are in the possession of UKrant and interviews from the Corbett Report and Novini.nl. The name Michael is an alias.

UKrant reached out to Tjeerd Andringa for a reaction. He responded with the following:

‘As I outline in class, Aristotle supposedly said: “It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it.” This suggests that it is the mark of an uneducated mind to accept or refute a thought without entertaining it.

William Perry, who studied intellectual development of Harvard students, describes what entertaining thoughts entails. He writes: “An educated mind has learned to think about even his own thoughts, it examines the way it orders his data and the assumptions it is making, it compares these with other thoughts that other people might have and adopts whatever this scrutiny of data, ideas, and opinions decides on as most reliable and productive. In doing so the educated mind learned to think in accordance with reality from which position he can take responsibility for his own stand and negotiate – with respect – with others.”’

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