On Tuesday night, around 400 students and teachers of UvA faculties for humanities and social studies took the Oudemanhuispoort building to protest against the university’s ongoing budget cuts as a prologue to the larger scheduled protests on June 8.
Once again, the student outrage creates a critical climax as Dutch universities are being criticized for the same reasons as during the protests in 2015. For about 3 months, students and staff members occupied Maagdenhuis, one of UvA’s oldest and historically important locations within the old city of Amsterdam. As more budget cuts are expected to hit both the faculty of Humanities and the faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, students and teachers are voicing their loss of trust in the system. The night itself featured a variety of activities, such as workshops, panels, and presentations leading up to the final rally, which ended in the students shouting “Bezet, blokkeer, dit beleid pik ik niet meer!”. This roughly translates to ‘Occupy, block, I will not allow these policies any longer’.
Fear for the institution
A feeling that was often brought up during the event, was that of fear. Students and teachers alike are afraid of what the university as an institution is becoming. According to many, the university is only focused on making sure as many people as possible get a degree as fast as possible, just how the ruling class in The Hague likes it.
Noor de Vries, a representative for the humanities department in the student council, believes it is not a recent issue but rather something that has been going on for a long time: “To some extent, I think, the university has already become a factory, the focus has moved away from what students deserve and the quality of education and rather it has become all about grades and acquiring a degree as fast as possible.” The students fear the downscaling of smaller courses or electives at the university because these courses do not attract enough students to make them viable in the university’s eyes. However, this would ultimately lead to a loss of knowledge within the university.
An interesting detail of the new wave of protests which have been planned since the first Night of the Protest, is the fact that many organizations are working together to demand change from the university and the government. Various student organizations such as Humanities Rally, ASVA, De Nieuwe Universiteit, and the national student union supported the event, as well as the trade unions FNV. The outrage throughout different socioeconomic groups was portrayed perfectly during a talk from members of student activist group The University of Colour, who stressed that these protests should not focus on one specific issue but should show the outrage against the system in general. They quoted African-American feminist Audre Lorde to highlight this sense of intersectionality within these protests. This was stressed once again when Dr. Peyman Jafari, UvA professor in Political Science and History, took the stage to talk about the legacy of the protests across Europe in May of 1968, where both students and regular workers took to the streets in order to force a change in Berlin, Paris and many more cities in Europe. He ended his speech by saying: “Last time it was the protests in Rome, West Berlin, Paris, and Washington that forced change. Let’s make sure that this time around, Amsterdam is included in that list!”.
This protest was only a small taste of what is to come if we are to believe the organizations leading the protests. The question is, what will happen next? The university has barely responded to the criticism in a serious manner so far, regarding all the budget cuts and changes that are being made as absolutely necessary and telling the students that there is no other way. However, now things are expected to take a turn in the right direction, as all the earlier organizations join forces. The trade union for teachers in academic education has even issued an ultimatum directed at the minister of education: if the 183 million euro budget cuts are not scrapped within 3 months, university employees all around the country will go on strike for an entire week. Finally, the university board does not get much time to breathe, as a bigger protest is scheduled on the 8th of June, the so-called March for Education.