Photos by Zuzanna Stawiska
UPDATE: 17:02, Thursday, 23 March
Just before the building’s closing time on Wednesday, both parties found an agreement. The document signed by the University Boards and protesters’ representatives is publically available at the UG website. More negotiations about the more complex of the occupiers’ demands will continue in three weeks.
UPDATE: 15:11, Wednesday, 22 March
The protesters’ demands
The protesters’ official demands are broader than simply reinstating Täuber, focusing on policies to prevent discrimination or harassment and creating a safer environment for reporting it.
Ultimately, the group is concerned with tackling issues more fundamentally, including HR practices and ensuring “adequate help and protection [that] is directly available for victims without the expectation to have negotiated with the perpetrator first”.
Academic freedom is also a concern: their demands include making discussion of research topics off limits when deciding on an employee’s promotion or performance evaluation.
“The most important of our demands is the revision of social security policies”, states a spokesperson of the occupiers. “But personally, I would say public acknowledgement of what the university has been doing is what matters most”.
Are current policies effective?
The university does have procedures currently in place to ensure a safe working environment, including its “Zero Tolerance Statement about undesirable behaviour”, where the UG confirms its commitment to social safety and encourages staff and students to report cases of harassment.
The protestors also point to recommendations stated in the YAG report. YAG is a group of young researchers from across disciplines at the RUG and UMCG, whose goal is to encourage research between faculties, support early-career researchers to influence university policy and promote their professional development, and connect academic to society in the north.
The group also points to another set of guidelines developed by Amnesty International in their manifest for higher education institutions against sexual harassment. As of publication, the RUG is not among the 19 Dutch universities who have signed it.
As of 15:00, the university board had asked for more time to read through the demands, with the goal of determining if any of the raised concerns could feasibly be negotiated today.
Original story follows below:
“No more silencing”, the protestors chanted as they streamed into the main hall of the Academiegebouw at noon on Wednesday. The sit in is an effort to draw more attention to their attempts to share their concerns with the University Board, as representatives of the protestors argue that the RUG has not been responding appropriately to harassment reports.
According to one of the protesters, they expect the university leadership to have the same goals as they do: “We hope the board also wants a safe university”.
At 13:20, the University Board entered negotiations with representatives of the protesters. Elies Kouwenhoven, a spokesperson of the UG, said she was surprised by the occupation. “We invited all sorts of groups but they did not want to talk with the Board.”
The demonstration follows another symbolic gesture from a separate group of protestors: On Tuesday, a list of demands, including the reinstatement of Human Resource Management & Organizational Behvior professor Täuber, was presented to university president Jouke de Vries with 3,500 signatures. Roughly a quarter of the university’s professors signed the statement.
Among the signees were students and staff from the RUG and well beyond the Netherlands: signatures from academics at Cambridge and Osaka University stand out, as well as world renowned scholars, such as American philosopher Judith Butler and Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde.
The university declined to comment on the event as well as on the broader movement. According to Ukrant, de Vries stated that since the issue at hand involves a court case and officially, the signatures have not yet been received by the university, he would not give a statement.
De Vries promised the protesters to “take a close look” at the petition. Tauber has expressed a desire to appeal the decision, and a crowdfunding effort to cover her eventual court costs has raised €18,794 in six days.
Inside the Academy Building, protestors say that their decision to join the sit in ranged from well in advance to last minute, but they expressed a common sense of conviction. “We need to continue to stand up, something needs to be done with structural oppression”, says one student, who wished to remain anonymous.
The occupation of the main university building is the latest in a series of protests in the city by multiple, separate groups. The movement started as an act of solidarity with Susanne Täuber, a social justice advocate fired by the RUG because of the “damaged working relationship”.
Täuber was one of authors of the YAG (Young Academy Groningen) report on discrimination and harassment at the university and published an article on the topic in a scientific journal. The attention raised by the publication caused her relationship with her employers to deteriorate and ultimately led to the termination of her contract on International Women’s Day.
Since then, dozens of professors, students or others involved in the RUG posted with #AmINext on Twitter and Instagram. There was also a postering the Aletta Jacobs mural, and a strike and manifestation in front of the Academy Building on Women’s Day.
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