‘The university is being run like a business’

RUG philosophy students Remco van der Meer and Jan Bant are concerned about bottom line-focused thinking at universities. The symposium ‘The Future of Philosophy’ will stir up the debate on the topic (again).
By Koen Marée / Translation by Traci White

It has been two years since angry students occupied the Maagdenhuis in Amsterdam. They demanded more of a voice within the university in order to speak out against their institution focusing too much on the bottom line. But in Groningen, things remained fairly quiet. ‘I don’t understand why’, says philosophy student Remco van der Meer. ‘Education in the arts and sciences are being hollowed out, both within the university and from the outside.’

‘It’s time to have that conversation in Groningen, too’, Van der Meer proposes. In that vein, he is organising the symposium ‘The Future of Philosophy’, in collaboration with several other students and with support from study organisation STUFF, faculty magazine Qualia, the curriculum committee and the faculty council. But it is not just about his faculty: ‘All of academia is becoming increasingly focused on publication quotas, economic valorisation and industry.’


‘There is a growing number of students who find themselves questioning where our education is really coming from’, says Jan Bant, chairperson of the students in the faculty council. ‘The education that we receive is dependent upon which instructors work at an institution. Now that there is so much emphasis placed on publishing, academics are hired from particular sectors of philosophy. That means that students are limited in what they are taught. If you follow that to its logical conclusion, then certain disciplines will die out.’

Van der Meer does not think that the problem necessarily lies with the faculty. ‘They also have to keep their heads above water, and they have no choice but to continue delivering publications. The entire system needs to change. Hans Radder, one of our speakers and an emeritus professor of philosophy of science, is alarmed by that. He feels that universities need to become more democratic: Right now, it’s being run like a business.

Bant says, ‘We want to revisit this topic. The fact is that people are wondering what they’re really doing at university. Am I just here to earn 60 study credits, or do I have some degree of responsibility?’


Professor Lodi Nauta, dean of the philosophy faculty, thinks it is fine that the students want to further engage in this conversation during a symposium. But he does not believe that the future of philosophy is at stake. ‘Philosophy is thriving. Of course there is some degree of profiling at play, and that means that certain courses will not be offered any longer if an instructor leaves who is a specialist in that field. That also means that new courses can be offered as new instructors begin working here.’

‘Thankfully, it’s not the case that our position as a faculty is dependent upon how many publications we have. In general, there is a justified and legitimate concern about the massive increased in the number of papers being published. That ‘the system’ as a whole is up for discussion is simply a fact: Some things are up for debate. But we have to be careful when discussing ‘the system’; the field of scientific research is massive and consists of many components.’

One concern that Nauta does share is that the humanities, including philosophy, are increasingly merging with the social sciences. ‘Of course it’s good that there is collaboration, but the humanities and philosophy in particular have their own distinctive character. That has to be preserved.’

Previously, this article erroneously stated that Jan Bant is chairperson of the faculty council of philosophy. In fact, he is chairperson of the students in the faculty council.



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