"It is not for the university to determine what you can say or do"

"It is not for the university to determine what you can say or do"

Questions in FASoS council: is every political expression allowed?

15-03-2023 · News

Are all political expressions allowed within the faculty, even if others feel "threatened" by them? Student representatives at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASoS) regularly get questions about it. "We follow Dutch law," the board replied at last week's council meeting.

Don't flyers about Palestine, for instance, too much upset people who support Israel? And is any speaker welcome at FASoS, even if they have controversial views? Elsewhere, this already caused a stir, for example at the University of Amsterdam, where the controversial Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson was a guest in 2018.

Does the faculty board follow certain guidelines in such cases, was the question from student council members. "No, we just follow what Dutch law prescribes. It is not up to the faculty to determine what you can or cannot say or do," board member Patrick Bijsmans replied. "As long as something falls under freedom of speech, as far as I am concerned, we should always provide space for that, if possible."

So how come certain activities (examples were not mentioned) do not get permission, the student council members wanted to know. "Some students believe that the faculty is not neutral, but has political motives," they said. The latter is not the case, the board assured. Bijsmans: "If we do not give permission, it is because of logistical reasons. For example, because there is no space available. We may have to make that clearer."

But that does not mean that the faculty is always neutral, some academic staff council members noted. "Look at the purple jumper worn by Dean Christine Neuhold today, on International Women's Day, for instance," they remarked with a wink. "As a faculty, we can indeed stand for certain values, such as women's or LHTBIQ+ rights," Bijsmans said. It is also good to take social norms into account: "You can never just voice every thought that pops into your head," said board member Sally Wyatt, referring to her statements in a recent interview in Observant.

It is a tricky subject, Bijsmans emphasised. "For example, we get questions about why the university is speaking out about the war in Ukraine but not, for example, about the situation in Iran." But such discussions are not new and will continue, academic staff council member Darian Meacham opined. "You cannot expect a board to draw up guidelines that will solve this once and for all."

Nevertheless, the faculty board is going to look at what could be improved in the coming period. Are there university-wide guidelines? Can communication be clearer? And is it possible, for instance, to place all politically oriented posters and flyers on a special wall or room from now on, so that people do not encounter them everywhere? This will be addressed at a future council meeting.

Photo: Pexels

Tags: fasos,council,political expressions,freedom of speech,guidelines,students

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