This weekend the “occupation” (or reappropriation, or liberation) of the Maagdenhuis (University of Amsterdam headquarters) was supposed to end with a Festival of Science and Humanities, featuring lots of good speakers and potentially interesting discussions. During the past weeks, the students and their allies at the Maagdenhuis have turned it into an exemplary open forum for critical exchange, whose highlights were not limited to appearances by star guests such as Rancière or Graeber. This was exactly what a university should be: a space for the practice of critical thinking. The reappropriated Maagdenhuis was “the new university,” as the new nation-wide group that seeks fundamental changes in the moribund Dutch system of higher education calls itself (in Dutch: De Nieuwe Universiteit).
After this weekend’s festival, on Monday morning, the “occupiers” were going to leave voluntarily. However, the potentially galvanizing moment of an alter-academic festival was clearly not something that the university’s board (the CvB) could countenance. This morning, before the event started, the major of Amsterdam (Eberhard van der Laan) fulfilled the CvB’s wish by having the riot police clear out the Maagdenhuis, leaving all of those who are convinced that another university is both necessary and possible outside in the drizzle (and nine people in jail).
Here’s De Nieuwe Universiteit’s statement:
Despite De Nieuwe Universiteit’s public and often repeated statement that they would peacefully leave the Maagdenhuis at the conclusion of the Science Festival on Sunday evening, the College van Bestuur of the University of Amsterdam decided to sign an eviction order on Friday afternoon, rendering presence in the Maagdenhuis illegal.
Despite the mayor’s suggestion for continued dialogue, the CvB of the UvA decided to act upon the ruling and mobilize the police to evict. Accordingly this morning, April 11th at 10am, dozens of plain clothed and uniformed and armed police officers, vans and horses, disrupted a peaceful, academic Festival of Science and Humanities, which had already been voluntarily taken outside by the organization. Nine people were arrested and others were forcefully dragged from the outdoor classroom. Force was used against students and teachers despite the fact they had vacated the building peacefully and complied with the police command.
This escalation is a disgrace. The disruption of a peaceful academic festival is an unacceptable show of power from the CvB. The small amount of trust that was painstakingly rebuilt over the past weeks has now again been completely crushed. We consider the unnecessary escalation and excessive escalation of force the CvB’s responsibility.
DNU, ReThink UvA and Humanities Rally call on the Raad van Toezicht, the COR, the CSR and the academic community in and beyond Amsterdam to join us in denouncing this action. The Festival of Science and Humanities will continue on the Spui square, later today, where everyone is welcome. Please come and show support for critical thinking and against top-down repression. Program will be published on Facebook shortly.
(To counteract confusion, I will emphasize once more that I teach at the other Amsterdam-based university, the VU, but we are dealing with systemic issues that concern us all. Since the different institutions are pitted against each other in a fight over students and funding, it can be tempting to lapse into a “What’s bad for them may be good of us” attitude. This would be a disastrous mistake.)