K3 | Distance
At the beginning of 2011, the TU/e Executive Board exerted quite a bit of pressure on the professors in Eindhoven to join the demonstration in The Hague against the austerity plans of Rutte I. Besides the fact that I could more-or-less understand those cuts (for example, limiting the student grants – studiefinanciering - to the standard duration of a study), I don't really like demonstrating. I thus didn't join in the protest on January 21st of 2011.
The procession of 500 professors in gowns also somewhat evoked, probably unintentionally, an image of an elite within the (semi-)government that does not really seem to understand that sometimes the belt has to be tightened there as well. The subsequent complete abolition of student grants by Rutte II, with the support of GroenLinks and D66, was partly the result of the blocking of the middle ground proposal of Rutte I. Strangely enough, this "progressive" (elitist would probably suit better as description) policy did not lead to a call to the professors to protest in The Hague.
The protest action described above has always stayed with me as a warning that universities should be careful with political positions. Selective protests from universities can lead to a disconnection with society and with our own diverse population of students and staff. Education through excellent, non-activist, research seems to me to be much more valuable in the long term to influence the direction of the Netherlands.
The same applies to the display of flags. Flags don't do much for me personally, but if they connect the country, for example during the 4th and 5th of May, then they have their value. It becomes a lot less clear when we, as a university, start flagging for countries at war. It is logical that we stand in solidarity with Ukraine. However, when we subsequently do not wave the flag of other countries that are under attack, this can be conceived as a statement as well; while there was probably just no flag of Israel available.
The day after the recent parliamentary elections, many universities and even individual departments sent a message to their students and staff about the election results. Apparently, as an organization, we are critical of the recent choice of the population, and most probably also of quite a few students and employees, who in majority had expressed themselves in favor of a (slightly) less globalist course. "Patronizing" was one of the more friendly descriptions about these messages, which I heard in the workplace and outside the university.
There is clearly a distance between universities and society. Unfortunately, the penny has not yet dropped that the underlying problem for this also lies with us.