The mythical academic community

‘The old days are back.’ That’s the thought that struck me as we inched through the crowd at the Vismarkt last Wednesday. Perhaps the uni could learn a thing or two about cherishing traditions from the city it’s in.

The scene in the city on King’s day was almost surreal. It was packed with groups in various shades of orange, all walking down the street with the nonchalance of holidaymakers on a tropical island. Traffic and social norms didn’t seem to matter either, as people smiled at random strangers they came across.

As one friend described it, it was a day to be ‘un-Dutch’ in the most Dutch way possible – scheduled, one-off, and made possible with a ton of bureaucracy. He had a point – there was barely a trace left of the revelry come Thursday morning.

The lovely thing was the freedom King’s day gave people to let their hair down. Tradition is a pass of sorts, and something that creates a sense of belonging. In this country, as elsewhere in the world, they’re fiercely guarded, and rightly so. Valuable things always need guarding.

Two streets down from there, however, an entirely different stream of thought seems to have taken root.

Most days it feels like I’m headed to some multinational that’s peddling a service

While in principle I know that the university is an educational institution, most days it feels like I’m headed to some multinational that’s peddling a service. Maybe that’s why I was surprised when I read in the UKrant write-up on the first-year social contract debate that the uni had a ‘behavioural code’ and a ‘student statute’.

Perhaps I missed something in my four years here, but I never got the impression that I belonged to some mythical ‘academic community’ that I’ve been told exists. The unwritten rule seemed to be to use the facilities provided to obtain a degree certificate, and to try to enjoy life in the meanwhile.

There also seems to be no effort to change that. Case in point: the motto. The current caption on the website reads: ‘Founded in 1614 – Top 100 university’. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect to find printed on the menu card of some third-rate take-away – dry, unimaginative, and sterile.

If the UG is serious about instilling a sense of character, and not just inventing some farce to pacify irate stadjers, it might start by showing us that being part of it means something beyond selecting a degree off a list. That in fact, it’s something to cherish.


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