A group of PhD students want a discussion on the mandatory Bible texts for promotions, but say they are being opposed by an influential elite.
The PhD students who try to start a discussion about the compulsory Bible texts for PhD degrees are opposed by an influential minority at VU. They said so when the result of a petition on the promotion ceremonies was presented to the Cooperation Council and to Rector magnificus Jeroen Geurts.
“Your colleagues are scared,” Life Sciences PhD student Ruben Bakker said during the presentation. “Afraid to say no, afraid of what it will do to their careers.” Bakker and Ruud Rijkers, who took the initiative for the petition along with Judith Smit and Andrew Cronin, told Ad Valvas that they “do not want to go in with their feet straight” and that they want to prevent hardening and polarization.
But no matter how carefully they proceeded, among other things by not using social media like Instagram to keep the discussion within VU, the topic proved to be taboo. According to the PhD students, their call to sign the petition was rejected by most of the newsletters that faculties and departments at VU distributed, sometimes after it had been agreed to include the call in the newsletter. A message about the petition was briefly on the newsletter in VU’s main building, but was quickly removed again. An employee has openly told the petitioners that they are against a discussion about the texts, but according to Bakker, everyone else keeps their mouths shut for fear.
a little enthusiasm
Of the 342 employees who signed the petition, a large proportion, 32 percent, did so anonymously, which the petitioners say is telling. Most of the signatories are affiliated with the Faculty of Science, in addition, there is little enthusiasm for a discussion. According to the petitioners, 25 percent of the PhD students at VU have signed the petition (160 of the 652 PhD students VU counted in 2020).
Bakker said his and other employees’ right to speak is suppressed at VU and compared it to the discrimination he experiences on the street when he goes hand in hand with his friend. “It’s annoying, but I’ll probably have to find a way,” he said. According to him, the repression at VU takes place behind the scenes and it is much harder to fight.
Relying on the diversity, which VU attaches great importance to, he called on the Cooperation Council to call on the Executive Board to hold a meeting. “All VU employees have the right to be free from the oppression of an invisible elite,” says Bakker.
The petitioners insist on every possibility that their goal is not to abolish the Christian texts, they will simply talk about it, for example, about the possibility of choosing an alternative text. “To pronounce the biblical texts during the PhD defense cannot be rejected, at least it is not clear what the consequences are,” Bakker said.
The enthusiasm for a debate is not great in the Co-operation Council, as it emerged from a previous Co-operation Committee meeting, where chairman Henk Olijhoek raised the topic. “VU is still a university on a Christian basis,” said a member of the Cooperation Council.
But principal Jeroen Geurts said he was shocked by what Bakker said. “It should not prevent people from being treated this way in order to express their opinion,” he said. The principal promised to “gather” the petition and return to it. The chairman of the Cooperation Council, Olijhoek, also called for “taking a serious look” at the petition. “With a population that is so diverse, everyone should feel good at VU.”
In 2016, VU changed its Christian foundation. In that year, the wording that the VU is governed by the gospel was deleted and replaced by the provision that the VU is based on its Christian origins and values the role of philosophy and meaning in the pursuit of a better world.