Over 1,200 academics reject nationalist politician's statements about universities

Over 1,200 academics signed an open letter in which they take a stand against statements made by FvD leader Thierry Baudet about universities. According to the signatories, Baudet's statements "conjure up a conspiratorial atmosphere" in which academics, journalists, artists and architects are portrayed "as the enemy of the people".

In his victory speech after the FvD won big in the Provincial States elections, Baudet said that "we are being destroyed by the people who should protect us and undermined by our universities, by our journalists, by the people who receive our art grants and who design our buildings". 

Following this speech, a group of academics wrote a letter sharing their concerns about Baudet and the FvD's positions and posted it online. Since the publication on Friday, it has been signed by 1,230 educators and researchers. 

The letter refers to the FvD's recently announced 'hotline for reporting indoctrination at schools and universities'. The party called on pupils and students to report if a teacher "indoctrinates students with his or her favorite political views". 

According to the signatories, this hotline is an attempt to put the FvD and Baudet's rhetoric into practice. "Given the strong interest Baudet expresses in dismissing climate science and promoting history based on national pride, it is clear that this initiative is not genuinely interested in reducing bias in academic institutions. Rather, it is interested in selectively discounting knowledge that does not fit its political and ideological claims."

The academics write that "recent international examples" show how universities are put at risk and academic freedoms are limited "as a result of the rise of right wing populism". They refer Donald Trump in the United States, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, among others. "We witness how watch lists of 'suspect' academics, public discrediting of scientific knowledge, and political attacks on institutional funding for education and research are used as methods to close down spaces for critical debate, further marginalize minorities and women, and consolidate the power of the authoritarian parties."

"We think it is important that you give a reaction if a politician makes such statements", media scientist Dan Hassler-Forest said to NU.nl on behalf of the academics. "We want to make our sound heard. We think that importance outweighs giving extra attention to his statements." He stressed that this is not a "left-wing initiative", according to the newspaper. "We have an incredibly wide range of political and ideological views at universities", he said. "We find it awful when people call on students to report their teachers. Then you get the feeling that you are being watched by a political game instead of just standing in front of the class."

The initiators call on the executive boards of all Dutch universities, the association of universities VSNU, and the Netherlands' academy of arts and sciences KNAW to support the letter.

"Our society will not tolerate any political infringement on the freedom to conduct critical academic research and education", the letter concludes. 

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