Supporting WOinActie in red

Every year during the opening of the academic year, the Martini church is draped in the red RUG colours. This time, however, the people attending wore a different kind of red: that of protest movement WOinActie.
By Rob Siebelink / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Last year only a handful of professors pinned a red felt square to their togas as part of the WOinActie movement against cutbacks in higher education. But a lot has changed in a year. This Monday, at the opening of the new academic year at the Martini church, red was everywhere – almost everybody wore it. Professors traded in their small lapel squares for large swatches of red fabric pinned to their berets.


The apparent consensus: be red or be square. There were practically no professors in the traditional profession who weren’t wearing the red in protest. New rector magnificus Cisca Wijmenga, in her first official appearance, led the charge.

Anyone who didn’t have a beret wore the traditional lapel pin. Board president Jouke de Vries wore one, as well as the Office of the University’s policy makers, the chair of the university council, and all the student representing student associations, whether they were progressive or conservative.

Bad tidings

Last year, the small-scale protest was mainly to draw attention to increased work stress as a result of earlier cutbacks; the university had less money but more students. But the forboding predictions by the Van Rijn committee seems to have gotten the attention of the entire academic community.

Classical universities such as the RUG stand to lose millions of euros in funding over the next few years. One of the committee’s recommendations, which the government also adopted, was more funding for scientific and technical departments.

Because no extra funds will be made available to higher education as a whole, the RUG is one of the universities who will have to pay for this: approximately four million euros a year, starting in 2022. People fear this will cost the university dozens of jobs.

‘The True Opening’

Protest movement WOinActie had organised an alternative national opening of the academic year, calling it ‘The True Opening’.  It took place at the Gerecht, a square in Leiden where executions were held in the past.

WOinActie, consisting of lecturers, professors, and students, called for education minister Ingrid van Engelshoven to step down. ‘We’ve lost our faith in her, because she only creates problems’, said Amsterdam professor Rens Bod (UvA), who founded WOinActie.

Van Engelshoven, who attended the alternative opening, says she understands why people are angry. She says the extra funds, which will go to scientific programmes, are meant to be a temporary financial band-aid.

Prizes and medals

During the opening at the Martini church, marketing professor Michel Wedel, who started his academic career at the RUG, was awarded the Ubbo Emmius medal. The RUG awards this medal once every five years. Wedel currently works at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland in the US.

Cisca Wijmenga gave the figurine for Alumnus of the Year to former student and journalist Christiaan Triebert, who did ground-breaking work for investigative group Bellingcat and currently works for the New York Times. Triebert got his start in journalism as a student freelancer with the UKrant. We’ll be publishing an interview with him on Wednesday.

Astronomer Amina Helmi, who was awarded the Spinoza Prize (also known as the Dutch Nobel Prize) earlier this year, held the academic speech on her research into big data and how our universe was formed.


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