In my opinion | Right to demonstrate


The action taken by the police on Tuesday against demonstrating activists belonging to University Rebellion, who had positioned themselves in front of the Shell stand at the Career Expo, went too far. This is the opinion of the writers of two letters to the editor. They believe it is contrary to the very values the university should stand for: the importance of critical thinking and the right of free expression, and, thus, the right to demonstrate.

Six vans

Seldom have freedom of speech and the right to demonstrate been under as much pressure worldwide as they are now. Videos from Russia showing peaceful demonstrators being arrested appear daily on our screens. In view of this, it is, we feel, very important that now more than ever we safeguard these values in our own country and that we take proper and appropriate action whenever they are infringed. And so we were deeply shocked by the large-scale police presence in the Auditorium during the first day of the Career Expo, called to the demonstration held by University Rebellion (UR).

On Tuesday of this week nearly twenty members of University Rebellion held a peaceful demonstration against the presence of Shell at the Career Expo. At the Shell stand, they played music and held banners. Owing to the nuisance this caused, the board of Recruitment Days asked the demonstrators within minutes of their arrival to switch off the music. When UR refused to do so, security was called.

Evidently, TU/e security estimated quite quickly that getting these twenty students demonstrating non-violently to change their mind was not something they were capable of doing. They asked the police to provide large-scale assistance. The response was prompt, before long six vans and roughly 25 officers were driving onto the campus, ready to deal with, I repeat, fewer than twenty students demonstrating non-violently. This show of power was entirely unnecessary, we believe, certainly with the images from Russia fresh in our minds. All in all, say eyewitnesses, the members of UR were able to protest for less than ten minutes.

As they escalated the situation so quickly, TU/e security created no opportunity to talk. Instead of immediately ordering the demonstrators to leave, the security staff could have requested the UR members to continue their demonstration at a less disruptive location, such as next to the entrance of the Auditorium building. It is security’s job to facilitate demonstrators at TU/e, just as it is the job of the police to do so throughout the rest of the country.

In view of recent development in Russia, it seems self-evident to us that we must cherish the right to demonstrate. Including at our campus. And so we call on TU/e’s security service and the Executive Board to cease from deciding lightly to end brutally a non-violent protest.

Nils van der Grinten, bachelor’s student of Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences & Fabian Lucas Luijckx, bachelor’s student of Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences

Stifling the debate

Universities have a rich history when it comes to protesting and activism. From the protests against the Vietnam War in the 1960s to today’s Black Lives Matter movement. By promoting the importance of free and critical thinking, higher education plays a major role in moving society forward. So how it is possible that the expression of these values at our university on Tuesday led to three arrests?

The Recruitment Days event offers companies an important platform on which to present themselves to our students, their future employees. The current shortage of technically trained graduates makes our students particularly interesting to companies and the Career Expo held this week is a vital recruitment tool. This begs the question: ‘To whom do we, the TU/e community, wish to offer recruitment possibilities on our campus?’

Loud and clear, the students behind University Rebellion have voiced their opinion on this matter. In my opinion, with good reason. UR considers it irresponsible to admit to an event of this nature a company that lobbies against climate regulations, that produces misleading advertising about climate impact, that invests four times as much in fossil fuel extraction as in green energy projects, and that is involved in greenwashing. No one is immune to propaganda, including our students.

These are critical questions, and ones that appear to be in line with the values of our university. Every bachelor’s student is required to take the class ‘USE: Ethics’, where it is made clear that your choices as an engineer must be placed within a broad societal context. Your choices influence society as a whole. TU/e hopes to produce alumni who think critically, who solve tomorrow’s problems.

Where sustainability is concerned, we are told here: ‘Practice what you teach!’, or as our Sustainability Ambassador Anna Wieczorek says: “We also have to come up with new ways to impact the consumption of power, water and raw materials. In this endeavor, every person, company, or institution has a role to play. What choices are we making?”

But awareness alone is not enough, as we can read in the TU/e Institutional Plan 2020-2025: ‘We believe that universities should not stand by but should lead the change when it comes to three major challenges we have identified: sustainability, the technological revolution and the increasing impact of technology.’

It is therefore incomprehensible to me that someone who has studied as this university, is capable of producing such a reactionary piece as appeared yesterday on the Cursor website. It goes against everything that we stand for in an open and free academic world. Incredibly so, when placed in the context of the measures that were taken. In this regard, the Recruitment Days organizers and, by extension, the university, have shown themselves in a poor light.

Since the emergence of the #MeToo movement, more attention has been paid to social safety at the university. I cannot now imagine that the students of University Rebellion, or students with a similar opinion on this subject still feel safe on our campus. This form of heavy-handed action against demonstrators stifles free expression and debate. It is disgraceful that it has come to this.

Friso Dubach, master’s student of Applied Physics

[Main photo | Jacob Lund / Shutterstock]

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