Sharing information on student protests

by Ingrid Robeyns on May 21, 2015


Students and staff who are occupying and protesting: share information!

Today, in the lunch break of a great conference on Social Egalitarianism and the Economy, Miriam Ronzoni organized a get-together for staff and students from Manchester University with the students who had just ended a weeklong occupation of the 9th floor of the business economics building. Since I was around, I shared with them a brief summary of what has been happening in the Netherlands in the last months. That’s been quite a lot – first the Humanities rally at the University of Amsterdam, where the plan to drastically reorganize and cut the Humanities Faculty was opposed by staff and students; subsequently the occupation of the Bungehuis, an awesome university building in the heart of the city of Amsterdam that will be sold and turned into a British club; and after the students of the Bungehuis were evicted by the police, they occupied the Maagdenhuis, where the occupation, including nightly visits by the president of the university and the Meir of Amsterdam were live screened on local television (and on the internet). Ultimately the Maagdenhuis was evicted too, but in the meantime the protests have spread to virtually all Dutch universities, and while the nature of the protests has been very different in the various universities, it has been clear to anyone reading the Dutch newspapers that there is a deep, fundamental discontentment with the corporate/neoliberal character of our universities (which, alas, are still supposed to be public goods).

The demands in the Netherlands can be summarized in three main categories: democratic reform in the governance models which requires, in part, a change of the Dutch law on higher education; democratic reform at the level of the university by giving faculty and staff a larger say in how the university is run; and a rethinking of what we expect from universities, and the proper funding for what the government expects us to do so that we can deliver quality education and research, without working in jobs with extra precarious conditions and/or in jobs which structurally require massive extra hours in order to get the work done.

The good news is that all the activism and protests of the last months are leading to results – most impressively the decision, today, in Dutch parliament, that students and staff should get a much larger say in the running of the university.

But apart from (rather in a hurry) reporting on these facts, this post wants to provide a platform for students all over the world who have been occupying and protesting to tell their stories – what has been happening, what the demands are, to what extent staff, unions, and other parties are involved, to provide links to their websites, and, perhaps, what good piece of advice one group wants to pass on to the other. For not all students and faculty know (enough) about what is going on in other countries, and as is always the case, knowledge is power.



Kevin 05.22.15 at 2:07 am

I posted this on the Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions facebook to see what information their students have.

Last year I was involved in protests at Penn State over our changes in healthcare: Healthcare Unites Graduate Students. This eventually transformed to more broad based calls for reform. Although we have had some success in the short term (very limited success), the future is not clear.

On a very limited note I’ve been involved in protests here at Penn State over our frat drama… which has not lead to anything.

We’ve ended up organizing the broader command under a new organization Progressive Student Coalition

It isn’t big, but we are not going away.


Phil 05.22.15 at 8:10 am

Just wanted to say I was there – although I’m not in the picture & left soon after Ingrid gave her report – & found both the report and the event inspiring and thought-provoking – very grounded, not at all “rrrrevolutionary”, spontaneously democratic without making a big deal of it. Good luck to the occupiers, from a nearby academic.


ZM 05.22.15 at 9:56 am

We had a protest in town today which involved all ages including students at the different levels. It was part of the protests this week in Australia to try to stop the Commonwealth Bank of Australia from loaning money to a company that wants to start a coal mine in the Galilee Basin in Queensland.

It was very well organised and fun. People wore yellow squares supporting divestment from fossil fuel, and were encouraged to hand deliver letters about the matter to the staff at Commonwealth Bank branches over four days.

As I have one of my bank accounts there I pointed out in my letter that companies in Australia are required by statute not to engage in unconscionable conduct — such as investing in coal mines that will take us to a dangerous level of climate change — and also as a savings institution they would have a fiduciary trust which would be breached by such a loan — and as I am an account holder they must reply to this letter and it must be satisfactory or I might go to VTAC. When I get my reply I will give it to and also to former Liberal Party leader John Hewson’s fiduciary trust campaign.

Then on the day there was a gathering, an introduction to the protest, a great speech, then everyone entered the bank or stood outside and we were to freeze for a few minutes, this was quite difficult. Then there was a debriefing afterwards with a speech, then breaking into groups to discuss how we felt it went, then a report back to the group as a whole.

It went very well.

The university divestment group has organised a protest in early June — this is to encourage divestment as the university is undertaking a review of its fossil fuel investments, and also to support the university to include a Charter of Sustainability in the 2015 Growing Esteem report — staff were developing this over summer. Growing Esteem is a contemporary translation of the motto by Horace and excerpted perhaps by Judge Redmond Barry “postera crescam laude” — and the Growing Esteem report is a yearly report on the progress of the university.

If the thread is still open till the 9th of June I will give an account of that protest then. Hopefully there will be a lot of students participating to encourage divestment and the charter of sustainability. As it is in exam time the organisers have included studying together as part of the protest.

Just like the Commonwealth Bank of Australia it would be unconscionable for the university to continue to invest in fossil fuels. I know this is part of the law since Wednesday when I heard the Hon. Chief Justice speak on the interaction of trusts and statutes and he mentioned that companies are not allowed to engage in unconscionable conduct.

As this is to share information about protesting, I will mention that the organisers of the divestment group have also organised other efforts building up to the June 9th protest, such as signs on office doors, meetings, media, and collecting pledges from students and staff to join the protests.


ZM 05.22.15 at 11:37 am

Further to sharing information on divestments — students and staff of universities internationally can join former Liberal leader John Hewson’s fiduciary trust campaign

where there are simple forms to fill to send to your particular university asking them about their investments in fossil fuels, and letting them know you want them to divest. I was just number 1800 and 1801 so out of 7 billion people in the world the number joining is quite low so far.

For people not students or staff at universities there are also easy forms and letters for managed Investment Funds and Superannuation companies to send them letters requesting they divest and asking about the exposure to climate change risks in their portfolios.

John Hewsom spoke last year at university about climate change, he was Liberal leader in the early 1990s and he had good policies on climate change but did not win the election.

He was very nice and approachable and said when I asked if maybe the Governor General should intervene in the climate change matter since we are so behind with cutting our greenhouse gas emissions he said he thought the Governor General was unlikely to which is a great pity.

The Australian newspaper the other day had an article about constitutional change to recognise indigenous people and that the wording by Anne Twomey would ensure it did not challenge parliamentary sovereignty — except the High Court can review Acts of Parliament in Australia and the Queen can dismiss the Prime Minister as happened in the 1970s so a lot depends on what is meant by parliamentary sovereignty and what the proposed wording is.


Layne Vler 05.22.15 at 3:28 pm

Olavo de Carvlho – an brazilian author – has debated with Dugin and he said
” Of course, I do not say that Professor Dugin is dishonest. But he is honestly devoting himself to a kind of combat that, by definition and ever since the world began, has been the embodiment par excellence of dishonesty. In view of this, one should not find it surprising that he attempts to remodel the debate situation itself in order to force it to take his side in the great combat, such as he conceives it.”


Ingrid Robeyns 05.25.15 at 6:08 am

some links to websites by Dutch student and staff groups – basically the “ReThink [name university] are staff groups, the New University [name city] are students groups: – Utrecht – Nijmegen – Rotterdam

other universities had information on – which unfortunately gives a database error, but some of them have Facebook pages: – University of Amsterdam – Utrecht – Rotterdam

Not all groups are on the web, and I may not have caught all of them, but this is a start.

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