VAMA students Roel Griffioen and Jesse van Winden have found yet another brilliant and entirely justifiable reason to prolong the writing of their theses a bit more: they have co-authored a manifesto on the state of Dutch universities. The long version will be published in a book edited by two VU philosophers, Ad Verbrugge and Jelle van Baardewijk, Waartoe is de universiteit op aarde – Wat is er mis en hoe kan het beter?, which will be presented at a “Night of the University” in the News in Amsterdam on June 6. Today, the short version of Roel and Jesse’s text has been published in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, and on this occasion Roel is the paper’s cover boy. The online version is here.
We’re proud that Roel and Jesse participate in the necessary debate on the contemporary university, which has been financialized and turned into a faltering pseudo-business, riddled with perverse incentives. One example of this, discussed by Roel and Jesse, is the pressure to “churn out” diplomas if you want to secure your funding and your income. As protesting students at the VU put it some months ago, the university appears to be run like a “cookie factory” — and to gain access to this factory, students must make debts or have wealthy parents. Neo-liberal internationalization in the wake of “Bologna,” with the world becoming a market of potential students that are needed to ensure growth, is another problematic development. But this process, in which we are of course entangled, also creates some elementary preconditions for genuine international exchange—however compromised and imperfect.
In his article in today’s NRC, which was also written for Waartoe is de universiteit op aarde, Ad Verbrugge attacks the top-down imposition of English, or the mutated version thereof that Hito Steyerl has dubbed International Disco Latin. Clearly, Verbrugge has a point when he attacks the fetishization of rankings and of “top research” published in peer-reviewed international journals, which can act as a disincentive for academics and students to think and act locally; and this project is certainly an impressive example of a critical intervention of (what remains of) the local public sphere.
However, it would be disastrous if the problem were ultimately to be framed in terms of good/local/Dutch versus bad/international/English. No doubt this is not the intention, but there are some worrying signs suggesting that the necessary analysis of the economic and ideological contradictions that both produce and undermine today’s university is swapped all too easily for conservative Kulturkritik that fetishizes the pre-1968 university; whereas Roel and Jesse, by contrast, praise the relative accessibility and openness of post-’68 academia. During the Night of the University (pardon my French: the Nacht van de Universiteit), one of the protagonists of today’s Edmund Burke-worshiping neoconservatives will lecture on the “the cultural role of the university” — Theodore Dalrymple, who has published a book with the Flemish nationalist Bart De Wever, and does not appear to be overly interested in distancing himself from his admirer’s political agenda.
In a Europe in which the neo-liberal internationalism of the EU breeds various nationalisms, populisms and xenophobic movements (from Lucke and De Wever to Farage, Wilders and Le Pen), what is the way to deal with the dialectic of the local, the national and the global, and with conflicting incentives and imperatives? One thing is for sure: for VAMA, returning to Dutch would be considerably less attractive than reverting to actual Latin. If we are to go back in time, then let’s do it properly! Fortunately, being enrolled in an international MA programme does not prevent VAMA students from engaging with the world their live in and the conditions they labour under.