I hate deadlines. I keep as far away from them as I can. This is why the Editorial Office of TU Delft’s Delta usually gets my column more than a week before the deadline. But this means that my columns are rarely current and do not cover the latest scandal in the land of academia (and there has been no shortage of these of late). But this time, I had absolutely no inspiration and suffered deadline stress for the first time. Until this week when the outcry around the Cursor at the University of Eindhoven broke loose.
I must and shall write about it. But what can I write about? Has not everything there is to say been said? And perhaps even more importantly, what do I dare write about it?
That this is a important question was made clear at the UNL (Universities of The Netherlands) UNLimited festival. The first question at the session Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Woke (kudos to the person who came up with this workshop name) was ‘Are there any subjects that you dare not write about?’ And to my surprise – I’m a real daredevil– I actually answered ‘yes’.
Now, I am not a journalist and I only avoid certain subjects to avoid hassle. for example I would wisely not say anything concerning the resilience of today’s student, and I would of course never use the term snowflakes.
Without press freedom, there will be no academic freedom
But that editors do not publish something because they are afraid of losing their job, whether this fear is justified or not, is a very serious matter that has occupied the academic community for a week now. The many messages of support to the Cursor’s editorial office make the general thinking clear and to that I have little to add.
What can we do about it?
The thought on my mind is what can we do about it? Not only in Eindhoven, but at all Dutch university newspapers. Without press freedom, there will be no academic freedom. That academic freedom is essential is one of the few things we all agree on. To use the wonderful imagery of Lars de Kruijf, who wrote a thesis about the independence of university newspapers in 2013, how can we turn lap dogs into guard dogs (in Dutch)? At the time of the research, TU Delft’s Delta was in the same category – the barking dog – as Cursor. Even then the conclusion was that Dutch university newspapers were finding it increasingly difficult to operate independently. I can barely imagine that this – in light of the increasing polarisation of society – has improved over the last 10 years. But please correct me if I am wrong.
The first step is, of course, to meet the demands of Cursor’s (in Dutch) editorial office. But what is also needed is achieving organisational and financial independence. This means not being part of the communications department and perhaps being employed by an entity that is independent of the university. A university can thus not fire you. There are also other ways of financing to be considered. For example the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science could directly fund university newspapers.
I do not have the expertise to design a good system for this, but I call on university newspapers to not rest when the Cursor issue is solved, but to deal with the underlying systemic issue. While aggressive dogs may become banned (in Dutch) in the Netherlands, as universities, we need them badly!
Birgit van Driel started working as a Policy Officer at Strategic Development in 2021. She returned to TU Delft where she started her studies back in 2006. She’s been affiliated to the Faculties of IDE (first year), AS (bachelor’s) and 3mE (PhD). After earning her PhD, she worked as a Strategy Consultant at Kearney and a Program Officer at NWO-AES.