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Opinion: “Full of false accusations and naïve”

Opinion René Gabriëls

MAASTRICHT. David Bernstein’s opinion on the New University Maastricht (Observant 27), is full of false accusations and from an academic and political point of view naïve, says René Gabriëls. Falsely he accuses the NUM of not being in for a dialogue, not knowing what democracy is and who is represented. His suggestion that what he says is not ideological is very naïve.

The NUM is an open platform for discussion and action, with the aim to improve the quality of education and research and democratize universities. Therefore, as Bernstein acknowledges, the high teaching loads and the reduction in time devoted to students belong to the concerns. The democratic deficit of the university is another important concern, because it’s about the opportunities students and staff have to influence and control the university policy. The basic principle of democracy is that people should have the opportunity to influence and control the decisions that are made by others and affect their quality of life. Affected by the decisions made by the executive board and faculty boards the NUM makes the proposal to elect the president and the deans and to make the councils more powerful than they are.

Representation is also an issue of democracy. Bernstein raises the question who the NUM represents. The answer is simple: those people who can identify themselves with (some of) the concerns articulated by the NUM. Nobody figured out how many members of the UM are represented by this platform. But why didn’t Bernstein raise a question about who is represented by the executive board, the faculty boards and the councils. The members of these boards are not elected and the members of the councils are elected by a very small percentage of the students and staff. I presuppose that they try to represent the students and staff as good as they can, but it would be politically naïve to think that they always do. University policy is also about interests and power.

American philosopher John Dewey pointed out that the public cannot be fixed, but is the outcome of political struggles. The NUM argues and bargains to create a public that encompasses students and staff that share the same concerns. In order to trigger a public debate and get things done it is sometimes good to make demands. Making demands doesn’t exclude, as Bernstein wrongly suggests, that one is not looking for a dialogue. He only has to read the response of the Executive Board of Maastricht University to the open letter with demands of the NUM to see that a dialogue is always possible if one wants. NUM appreciates that the Executive Board of Maastricht University takes the concerns about the quality of education and research seriously and wants to co-operate in a constructive way.   

Bernstein personifies the concept ideology and suggests that NUM is a group of ideologues. Ideology and ideologues could be fairly neutral concepts, but as Bernstein proceeds they become pejorative with negative overtones. He perceives himself of course not as an ideologue. However, his own research is also ideological, because it is not value-free and affirms or criticizes implicitly or explicitly specific value systems. Because scientific research in general is not value-neutral it should be democratized. French philosopher Louis Althusser has a point by saying that education is the most important ideological state apparatus, because it reproduces via the curriculum the dominant world views and class relations. It comes for instance not out of the blue that students at the UM contest the curricula of economics and Europeans Studies, because they are in their eyes too mainstream.

It’s remarkable that Bernstein states that ideologues of all stripes are the same, because they are only interested in their own voice. Besides that he treats with this statement engaged students and staff disrespectfully, it is stupid to say that. Academic research on the development of ideologies done by historians, political scientists and philosophers shows that ideologues have listen very well to their opponents in order to refute their world views and come into power. Why would the NUM organize a public debate if they only want to listen to their own voice? And why did the University Council organize another public debate if they would expect that the NUM would be so narcissistic? The NUM opens the door to some critically important conversations about the quality of education and research.

On behalf of the New University Maastricht, René Gabriëls

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