Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts
Gabriëls considered not accepting the prize
MAASTRICHT. The Maastricht University employee award this year goes to senior research technician Roel Spätjens and philosopher René Gabriëls. During the New Year’s drink, last Monday 5 January in Randwijck, the latter took the time, somewhat suspiciously about his selection from a list of 22 candidates, to vent his criticism of Maastricht University and the present academic climate in the Netherlands.
After a speech and a toast by Executive President Martin Paul, the winners of the employee award are given the limelight, as is the case every year. They receive a bronze statuette by sculptor Desmarets and a €500 dinner voucher.
Roel Spätjens’ colleagues from the Department of Cardiology sing his praise for his “professionalism and loyalty”; “you never come up empty handed when you ask him for something”. Standing in front of the microphone, Spätjens is brief, he thanks his colleagues. Shortly before that, the other winner, René Gabriëls, lecturer at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, approached it quite differently. He treated the audience in the Trefcentrum to a faultfinding speech. And it is exactly this critical mind that his colleagues appreciate, as the jury report showed. People also find him “courageous, scholarly and unselfish. He will take over a lecture without any complaint,” vice chairman Nick Bos quotes. “He is convinced that students deserve the best.”
Gabriëls pushes off, he is fierce. The UM is an “autocratic institute” in which employees are seen as “executors”. He refers to the university’s logo and slogan as being “stupid” and “ugly”. Furthermore, he speaks of “exploitation” of colleagues and of the university as an enterprise that is all about image. He is worried about the quality of education and research: the high pressure of work, fraud and the perverse incentive to publish. He also believes that accessibility of the university for the lower classes is under pressure.
Gabriëls considered not accepting the prize, but then thought it would be a possibility to express his criticism. “My wife convinced me, because it would give me a chance to put a voice to the professional pain of so many colleagues.” He is suspicious about his nomination. “The university administrators can pat themselves on the chest and say: ‘See, we even offer space to those who criticize us.’
Gabriëls is a member of the Platform Hervorming Nederlandse Universiteiten (Dutch Universities Reform Platform), a group of academics who appeal for a rigorous change to the education system in the Netherlands. This Friday, January 9th, the Platform will launch a petition in Amsterdam, signed by 17 organisations, including the University Council of Maastricht University.