Independent journalism about VU Amsterdam | Since 1953
17 July 2024

Campus
& Culture

How SRVU lost board members and votes this year

It lost half its votes in the student council elections, waved goodbye to most of its board members and processed a lot of criticism. While SRVU was the biggest party in recent years, it is now facing hard times.

SRVU members manage StudentenD0k, got VU Amsterdam to offer free menstrual products, organise clothing swaps and in a short amount of time also saw their chair, vice chair and faculty council representatives pack up shop one by one.

“I did not expect that I would have to constantly take people by the hand”, says former board member Bart Verkerk. He describes how a part of the board took up less tasks than the rest, was often sick or cancelled shortly before meetings. That increased the workload for the remaining board members. Verkerk became vice treasurer for instance, because the original treasurer could not access their account for a long time, and he took over more tasks after the vice chair left halfway through the year. “What people say in their job interview always turns out a bit differently in practice. You think you can spend ten hours on board work a week, but then you suddenly find out your studies require more time.”

Not a priority

But according to Verkerk, the issues couldn’t be ascribed to that margin of error anymore. “It was clear that what we do at SRVU was not prioritized.” One board member already left at the beginning of the academic year after discovering he didn’t have enough time for the position. In his week off after the elections last April, Verkerk noticed how much happier he was without the heavy workload. At first he decided to stay and safeguard the continuity within the board, but he eventually decided it was too much. In June he resigned alongside the chair. As of now, only three of the original seven board members remain. “The benefits did not outweigh the burdens anymore.”

Persistent indecisiveness

Jay Dehnert decided to part ways before the student council elections and started his own party: URVU – which eventually received more votes than SRVU. He depicts an atmosphere of persistent indecisiveness within the SRVU board. For instance with the debate about supporting an Israel boycott, which was originally planned for last November but did not take place until March. Former SRVU member and ChangeVU chair Vincent Mesrine: “That was a moment when it became clear for many SRVU members that the party had issues. Holding on to procedures got in the way of good conversations and decisions. At that point members started leaving.” The faculty board members of SRVU also decided to switch over to another party after the debate.

‘It seemed like Palestine was the only topic’

When things would happen on campus, members wanted to quickly bring out a statement, according to Dehnert. But then the board would endlessly discuss whether they should or shouldn’t, and in what form. Dehnert: “ChangeVU and Vrijmoedige Studentenpartij were much quicker for example, allowing students to know who they can count on for what.”

Mountain of administration

“But with sensitive subjects such as the Israel boycott you want everyone to be there to discuss it”, says Verkerk. Between November and March several board members were on extended sick leave, he says. “With the organisation of the Israel boycott debate, many factors were at play: finding a moderator, deciding which information to give our members. Explaining not only the yes-side [voting in favour of the boycott, Ed.], but also the no-side.” According to him that ‘no-side’ ended up not receiving enough attention.

Perhaps due to this, SRVU received a bunch of new members who only signed up to vote, often in favour of the boycott. That explosion of new sign-ups saddled up the board with a mountain of administration according to Dehnert, which got in the way of other tasks.

Yannick Hooghiemstra, who was a general board member last year and is now taking a head start on his role as chair in the coming academic year, says in a written response that due to SRVU’s ‘position-taking on Palestine’ they have gotten many new ‘active’, ‘paying’ and ‘prominent’ members. This is despite the fact that the boycott received only one more vote in favour of it than against it. Verkerk suspects that SRVU will become a lot more activistic in the coming year with its new members. That was also one of the reasons for him to get out. “It seemed like Palestine was the only topic.”

Warned about ChangeVU

And then there’s the loss of voters. More than half of all votes at the last university student council elections went to ChangeVU, the party of Mesrine. He was a member of SRVU until the previous academic year, but left because their “visions did not align”. “The focus was often on how something had to be done, instead of actually doing it.”

He attributes the success of his party to its less activistic approach and its focus on university issues, while he says SRVU pays more attention to nationwide issues which for instance the Dutch Student Union (LSVb) covers.

Dehnert agrees: “The ideas of ChangeVU don’t differ from SRVU that much, but ChangeVU communicates them better.” Dehnert claims to have been warning SRVU about losing votes to ChangeVU, which ultimately ended up happening.

Competition

Aside from the internal struggles, SRVU also faces hardship due to the massive increase in independent or break-away parties. It was for the first time two years ago that so many one-person parties popped up.

Another new development this year is the major gains for a right-wing party. The Vrijmoedige Studentenpartij (VSP, or Outspoken Students Party), which especially campaigned against internationalization, the Pride Progress Flag and what they refer to as cancel culture, received 25,4 percent of the votes.

With the fragmentation of what Dehnert refers to as the more progressive parties, can they muster up enough resistance against the ideology of VSP that’s organised in one party? Dehnert: “You see the turnout of the elections rising a bit each year. I think if students do more research, VSP will get less votes.” According to Dehnert the party strongly leans on populism.

As for the large amount of votes for VSP – Mesrine doesn’t think it says much. “Most students are still strongly against the values of VSP.” Mesrine points to the rule that if just one delegate of a faculty competes for a spot in the university student council, they automatically get a seat. “On paper it looks like they have a lot of support, but they’re not as big of a movement as some people seem to think.”

New board?

Meanwhile, you wouldn’t notice SRVU’s decline by looking at their Instagram. They steadily post about issues such as the fine for extended studying, events such as the Chinese New Year and share monthly recaps in which already-departed board members are shown without any indication that they have left. They also recruit a new board for 2024/2025.

The question remains who will take over the tasks from the departed board members. On top of that, there’s the training of the new board members. Verkerk passed on his knowledge to his successor, but around the time he and the chair announced their resignation, many board members were absent. “They appeared confused when we actually left. Now that I’m gone I’m suddenly asked about all kinds of things again, but I have decided not to voluntarily jump in anymore when it’s asked of me. I’m off the board.”

How will this all impact the future of the party? Upcoming chair Hooghiemstra says he believes the student union will grow again and will be more present than ever in the next year. Former board member Verkerk: “SRVU already rose from the ashes once a few years ago. Each year some come and some go.” He does think that “SRVU veterans” will be more distant from the organisation this upcoming year. “By losing active members in the board and party, SRVU has lost useful people and knowledge. That’s a loss. But it also means that new people have more freedom to plot their own course. Maybe that’s a good thing.”

'SRVU already rose from the ashes a few years ago'

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