ReThink RUG: ‘Why Duisenberg?’

RUG employees are opposing the appointment of Pieter Duisenberg (VVD) as president of university association VSNU. They want the Board of Directors to explain, they write in an open letter.
By Peter Keizer / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Almost forty employees signed the open letter written by the group ReThink RUG. In the letter, which has been circulating the university since Monday, the group says they are surprised that the RUG board supports Duisenberg’s appointment.

‘The same Duisenberg who, when he was an MP, suggested the KNAW should research scientists’ political preferences? The same Duisenberg who proposes the further commodification of universities, who wants to make university programmes more “demand-driven” and who wants the “fun studies” (read: humanities) to be abolished?’ the letter writers ask.

The list continues: ‘The same Duisenberg who wants to use the second cash flow for a one-sided interpretation of “social relevance”, suggesting the government gains an even larger influence over scientific research? The same Duisenberg who wants to use the proceeds from the loans system, that minister Bussemaker had promised would go to extra staff to relieve work pressure, to mainly go to technical universities?’


Duisenberg was appointed president of the university association, which has RUG manager Sibrand Poppema as vice-president. The VVD man is a proponent of increased internationalisation of higher education, as well as the RUG’s plans for a branch campus in Yantai. Nevertheless, the letter writers feel the support for the appointment is not in line with what the RUG board has said earlier.

‘We would like the Board of Directors to tell us what their motivations were, and if they feel it clashes in any way with the concerns they expressed two years ago. This appointment appears to be at odds with these concerns’, says Thijs Lijster, lecturer of art and cultural philosophy, and the first person to sign the letter.

Two years ago, the ReThink RUG group, which was named after the organisation of UvA employees who at the time demanded the reform of the organisation of education and research, also wrote an open letter. Back then, the two hundred signatories were worried about the limited participation and excess of bureaucracy at the university.

At the time, Poppema said he agreed that the work pressure and bureaucracy were excessive, but that that battle was one the VSNU should fight. ‘That just isn’t consistent with Duisenberg’s appointment, since that seems to support the commodification of universities. For us, it’s not about the person, but how does this appointment match the vision of what a university should be?’ Lijster wonders.

RUG spokesperson Jorien Bakker confirms that the Board of Directors received the letter. They will respond later, she says.


The letter marks the first time in two years that ReThink RUG speaks up. ‘We had several discussion meetings back then, but nothing much happened. That was due to time constraints and everyone going back to work. There’s no proper organisation behind it’, Lijster says. ‘We had momentum, but we lost it. But it did create awareness. People are just that bit more inclined to respond critically to measures they’re being asked to deal with, and not just take everything lying down.’

The open letter is inspired by the petition that ReThink UvA held in Amsterdam to prevent Duisenberg’s appointment. This petition was signed by nearly 5,000 people.

Read the open letter here (Dutch)



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