The national conference for higher education media will take place in Groningen on 13 April. Buijs was tipped as a participant in a panel discussion on ‘wokeism’ in January on the advice of the chair of the Kring, after Buijs published an opinion piece at UvA news medium Folia, in which he argued that the ‘woke culture’ threatens academic freedom at his faculty. “At that moment, he seemed a suitable candidate and was invited by the Groningen organisation,” said Ries Agterberg, chair of the Kring van Hoofdredacteuren.
Now Agterberg and his fellow board members take a different view of Buijs’ suitability. “In recent months, Buijs has radicalised at lightning speed,” Agterberg believes. He cites as an example that Buijs liked a picture on Twitter of a swastika made of progress flags. The scholar blogged about the so-called world reptilian government and called on the trans community to speak out about the attack on a primary school in Nashville because of ‘the radicalisation in their own ranks’.
Last week, the Kring called on the organising Groningen media to cancel Buijs, but the Ukrant (of the RuG) and Hanzemag (Hanzehogeschool) did not agree. A conversation between the Groningen editors-in-chief and the Kring did not lead to an acceptable compromise for all parties. Ukrant editor-in-chief Rob Siebelink understands the issues that other editors-in-chief have with Buijs, but did not want to cancel him. “He is indeed radicalised. But we also have people with very different views on stage, and a strong moderator, so no one will just get the space to spout hate speech.” Besides Buijs, diversity officer Charlotte Wekker of the Hanzehogeschool and Sahar Meradji, creator of the Powned series Ik woke van jou, are also taking part in the debate.
Siebelink: “If we cancel Buijs now, we indirectly prove those people right who cry that all universities are so leftist. Besides, I find it very interesting to hear how someone thinks that I totally disagree with. I am not a moralist, but a journalist.”
That Buijs is coming after all was reason for the Kring’s three other board members to boycott the congress. Saskia Bonger (editor-in-chief of the TU Delft medium Delta) decided to quit the board altogether. “I think the debate cannot be conducted properly with someone like Laurens Buijs. I’m all for letting all kinds of voices be heard, but that doesn’t mean you have to hurl unfiltered fact-free nonsense into the debate. During a debate it is not easy to check those facts. In any case, I don’t have the impression that you can still organise a meaningful debate about woke, because that term has been hijacked by all sorts of anti-democratic movements that mainly want to silence others themselves.”
Bonger also disagreed with the compromise reached by the Kring board. The Kring is now withdrawing as responsible for the content of the congress, but is still paying all the bills. Kring chairman Agterberg will not deliver a welcome address at the congress, but will still be present. And a planned award for best cartoon or illustration will be dropped. Moreover, after the conference, the Kringbestuur wants to start discussions with all higher education media on how to arrange the responsibility of the congress in the future. For Bonger, this was too much of a compromise, so she stepped down from the board.
Buijs still plans to participate
Agterberg himself, as editor-in-chief of the Utrecht-based DUB, will attend the conference, but not as chairman of the Kring. “I will go, because I think it is important to have a Kring conference again after years of corona. And with that, the panel discussion also invited people with very different opinions. If it had been a lecture by Buijs, I wouldn’t have gone.”
The organisers of the Kring conference say that despite all the commotion, Buijs plans to attend the debate.