Eindhoven University of Technology went to great lengths to stop publication of an unwelcome article about the new rector magnificus, national daily de Volkskrant reports. This has led to a lot of commotion.
The new rector is called Silvia Lenaerts. Last year, the former Executive Board member at Antwerp University wrote an opinion piece in Flemish daily De Standaard about the controversial construction of a tunnel in Antwerp. Initially she forgot to state her own interests: she was on the board of directors of a company involved in the construction.
What’s more, Eindhoven climate activists were angry that she featured in an ad by chemical corporation Ineos, endorsing the equally controversial production of ethylene in the Port of Antwerp. They protested with banners at her inauguration as TU/e rector.
She didn’t know it was an ad, she says in the censored Cursor article, which gives her ample room for rebuttal. “Afterwards I felt abused by the interviewer and by Ineos, but the communication department advised me not to rock the boat even more, so we let it go.”
Earlier this week, the website of university magazine Cursor was blacked out because editor-in-chief Han Konings has been removed from his post with immediate effect. He had worked there for almost 22 years. The reason for this decision is still unclear, as he didn’t even publish the article.
Cursor’s editorial board – chaired by a reputation expert and without any journalist members – was sent the interview in advance and believed its publication would harm the interests of the university. The Executive Board itself also applied some pressure.
The board members, however, don’t see it this way. Notwithstanding the removing from office of the editor-in-chief, the Executive Board writes the following in a response: “If the editor-in-chief wants to publish the articles concerned, there’s nothing stopping them from doing so.”
The editorial board also washes its hands in innocence, as evidenced by this statement: “Rather than hampering the development and functioning of Cursor and its team of editors, the editorial board wants to make a positive contribution. We have never prohibited a publication.”
Bridget Spoor, author of the article, won’t take the censorship lying down. She has used the university’s whistleblower scheme to submit a complaint. Her complaint is still pending. The Cursor editors demand a new, independent editorial board and want to have a say in the appointment of a new editor-in-chief. They also want a review of the editorial statute to ensure their independence.
Outsiders are looking at the situation in amazement. “Periodical reminder that administrators with a censor reflex are the biggest threat to their institution’s reputation”, tweets Tim Ficheroux, editor of the Rotterdam Erasmus Magazine, for example.
Interest group WOinActie has also responded: “One of WOinActie’s fundamental principles is that a university can only function properly if it’s independent, and that means the university press must be independent too.”
Journalist at NRC newspaper Folkert Jensma, who was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Amsterdam recently, tweets: “Long live unwelcome articles! They serve the academic community best.”
Journalist union NVJ says the editing team has made a wise decision by blacking out the site. General secretary Thomas Bruning tweets: “Better to remain blacked out and independent than dance to the tune of Eindhoven University of Technology’s board. @nvj stands with you!”
News medium ScienceGuide also supports Cursor and recognises the pressure some education institutions put on journalists. “Our editing team is actually being subjected to legal harassment by a university as we write this. That’s the second time this year.”
SP and GroenLinks have asked parliamentary questions. “Do you share the opinion that at a public democratic institution, such as a university or university of applied sciences, the journalistic freedom and independence of institutional magazines shouldn’t be compromised in any way?” is the one they would like Minister of Education Dijkgraaf to answer. The two parties are also requesting an investigation into the journalistic freedom of magazines at universities and universities of applied sciences.
“We attached great importance to independent news,” says Demi Janssen of the Dutch National Students' Association, whose membership is made up of student councils at higher education institutions. “Magazines at universities and universities of applied sciences should have the freedom to report news as they see fit after duly hearing all parties involved. Reliable and impartial information must be safeguarded.”