Runia debate quickly heats up

More than a hundred students and teachers assembled at the Marie Loke room at the arts faculty to talk about the commotion surrounding Eelco Runia. In the meantime, students organised a sit-in.
 By Menno van der Meer

The arts faculty board had organised the meeting because of the fierce debate caused by Runia’s op-ed in the NRC about why he was leaving the university. The debate became even more heated when teachers were advised not to talk to the press.

Dean Gerry Wakker opened the meeting with a statement, in which she said she wanted an open and honest conversation about a range of themes – Anglicisation, internationalisation, clustering, work pressure, and the market ideology. ‘But before we start, some facts. We will not discuss anyone’s personal situation, as that would constitute a breach of privacy.’

With this, Wakker meant Runia’s situation, who was also present at the meeting. ‘There is nothing that stands in the way of an open debate. Anyone can talk to anyone they like and write down their suggestions.’

Open debate

‘Does that mean that this isn’t a plenary debate?’ Runia asked. ‘Yes? All right, then I’m leaving.’ He walked to the back of the room to put on his coat and scarf, but didn’t leave just yet.

The people present talked at standing tables. There were sandwiches and fresh-squeezed juice; the faculty board wanted to create an ‘informal setting’. There were sheets of paper and markers, a whiteboard for complaints, questions, and suggestions.

For Runia, however, the precise set-up of the meeting served a clear reason. ‘This is just another round of damage control. They’ve taken all the energy out of it, all the sting.’

He said that the managers and the communication department are lying. ‘First they called it a labour conflict, but they changed their mind on that because it would’ve meant they owed me a transition payment. So then they called it a personal conflict, to try and avoid the debate. It’s staggering.’

As far as he was concerned, the debate should have been about the de-professionalisation of the arts faculty. There’s a good reason he’s working on a follow-up article on the topic, Runia said.

Mockery

Rico Tjepkema with student faction Letteren Vooruit took no issue with the set-up of the debate. ‘The faculty board is here, as are many members of the faculty council. Everyone can express their concerns, which can then be discussed in the next council meeting.’

But history and law student Sebastiaan van Leunen called the set-up a mockery. ‘They are pretending to listen, but this setting is actually causing a lack of involvement.’ About Runia: ‘During his first class, I thought: this is how you talk about history. His departure is a great loss.’

When Runia eventually did leave after an hour, Wakker went through the room with pen and paper to take stock of what people think needs improving. About Runia, she said: ‘His statements are his own. We have spoken many times to Eelco in the past. It’s a personal story.’

Academic freedom

She did not regret the informal setting. ‘We had no way of knowing how many people would show up, and there’s a lot to talk about. During plenary meetings, the same people are often talking. We wanted to hear other voices.’

She was shocked by the commotion. ‘Of course academic freedom is a priority with us. This is matter of miscommunication. The e-mail that was sent round was poorly worded. And then the media immediately says we’re curtailing academic freedom.’

After meeting with the communication department of the RUG concerning Runia’s article in the NRC, Wakker warned Maarten Duijvendak and Hubertus Büschel, department heads at history. ‘I said: “This situation is a tricky one. Better to refer colleagues to the central communication department in case of questions”.’

The department heads did so by e-mail, and this e-mail subsequently leaked. Board president Sibrand Poppema also emphasised during the University Council’s committee meeting that there was no ban on speaking to the press. He called the mail ‘well-intentioned, but completely incorrect’.

Repressive tolerance

The whiteboard has filled up with phrases such as ‘Damage control!’, and ‘Down with clustering’. ‘Is this a personal matter?’ ‘Internationalisation is not a gravy train!’ and ‘Repressive tolerance!!!’

Can Wakker work with this? ‘We’ll be cataloguing everything and discussing it in the next council meeting. We do our best, but we can always do better.’

Arts students organised a peaceful sit-in of the faculty offices for Friday between 1 and 3 p.m. They protested the ‘universal problems plaguing the university’ that Runia has mentioned. During the sit-in, they discussed several problems. Student party DAG supported the event and was calling on everyone to join.

The Board of Directors refused to comment on Runia’s op-ed. ‘Several things mentioned in the piece have been part of the RUG’s agenda for much longer’, Poppema said on Thursday. ‘But he mainly uses the piece to write about his frustrations as an employee. And we won’t comment on that as employers, it’s not allowed.’

Nederlands

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