UPDATE: 21:13, Tuesday, 25 April
As the students had refused to leave, the university decided to call the police. Protesters were dragged out of the building forcefully.
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In a dramatic turn of events, negotiators representing protesters announced during talks with the University of Groningen board on Tuesday that they were abandoning their previously agreed terms and are now exclusively calling for professor Susanne Täuber to be reinstated by 1 May.
Just before noon on Tuesday, a group of around 100 students and staff came together at the Academy Building, where the talks were being held, and also announced the new single demand. The protest group, named Occupy RUG, then moved inside and is currently occupying the most prominent building at the university.
“We are watching”, many signs read, a message underlined by hand-painted eyes on protestor’s hands. “It’s pathetic that this institution has the audacity to present itself as valuing social safety”, says Finn Jetses, a 20-year-old student from Germany, who was one of the protesters.
After professor Täuber, a social safety expert, lost a court case in March over her firing by the university, there have been many initiatives supporting her: multiple protests, an open letter with 4,000 signatures, articles in influential media outlets in the academic world (such as Nature or Times Higher Education), and a student-led occupation of the university, demanding systemic changes in social safety policies of the University of Groningen.
Moving to this single demand may prove risky, given that the university has consistently declined to comment on Täuber’s case thus far. But in a post on the Occupy RUG Instagram account, the protestors make clear that the protestors feel that radical action would be the most meaningful way for the university to demonstrate that it truly wants to change: “The social unrest and sense of social insecurity at the RUG can only be dispelled if Susanne Täuber’s case is brought to a successful conclusion”
An agreement to revisit the university’s human resources social safety policy brought the previous Academy building occupation on 22 March to an end. The board of the university agreed to negotiate with the students, and on the 22nd of March, they released a joint statement and the board issued an email to all students and staff seeking to assure the community that they take social safety seriously.
“We think that social safety is very very important. We are aware that not everyone feels safe at the university, and we want to do something about it”, says UG spokesperson Anja Hulshof.
Following the occupation of the Academy building in March, the board of the university agreed to convene to negotiate the more technical demands concerning changes to the university’s human resources department. In that same vein, the university began a campaign this week encouraging staff and students to speak up, which was planned by the institution long before the current protests got underway.
“Even if it’s probably not your task, just ask”, read the bold posters hung in all university building. The campaign focuses on talking out your problems and resolving issues as they arise. While the message is well-intended and a much-needed effort, the protestor’s own versions of the poster make clear that their concerns go beyond just talking things through: “Firing critical researchers simply for speaking up. Is that acceptable?”
In an official statement, the UG restated that “based on privacy laws and the codes of conduct that our university adheres to, we do not want and cannot talk about individual situations of students or employees.” As the students were adamant about their demand of reinstating Susanne Täuber, the Board left negotiations.
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