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‘Lefty hobbies’ divide consultative meeting

Emotions ran so high at a recent meeting of the Executive Board with the student and staff councils that it had to be suspended. ‘Not everyone has the patience for consultative procedures.’

Commotion was the order of the day at a VU Amsterdam consultative meeting on 24 April, as members of the student and staff councils ended up in a shouting match in front of the Executive Board. The session eventually had to be suspended by chair Marius Rietdijk due to the disorder and emotional outbursts. The trigger: the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which the university supports.

“The discussion was about the key priorities in the Framework Memorandum, which lays the groundwork for next year’s university budget”, Rietdijk explains. “That had been voted on a week earlier, and now it was about fine-tuning a few points. Not about anyone coming up with entirely new input. But Marlon Uljee of the Outspoken Students Party [Vrijmoedige Studentenpartij, VSP] did just that, and started talking without asking for the floor. I pointed out that he was out of order, but he just kept going. So I decided to keep talking as well, and it became a power struggle.”

Someone else then shouted for Uljee to shut up.

Expressing opinion

“Uljee objects to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which VU Amsterdam endorses”, says Sarah Westheim, acting president of the University Student Council [former president Guido Groenescheij recently stepped down prematurely because of the polarised atmosphere in the USC – ed.]. “Of course that’s his right, but these issues are discussed beforehand in subcommittees of which he is also a member, but there he either keeps his mouth shut or simply fails to attend the meetings. So it frustrates everyone who did put time and energy into their committee work that one member prevents us from pressing ahead, when he has already had every opportunity to express his views.”

After Uljee refused to answer Ad Valvas’ questions over the phone, we received an anonymous e-mail ‘on behalf of Marlon Uljee and the VSP’. According to the unnamed writer, Uljee, ‘as should be expected of an elected Student Council member, took the floor in a proper manner to defend his group’s position. He expressed his concern about the statement that certain decisions should be irreversible at any cost.’

Fighting hunger

The SDGs to which VU Amsterdam subscribes deal with such issues as fighting hunger and poverty, inequality and the transition to affordable, sustainable energy. The university has even had them painted on paving stones scattered all over its campus. So why does Uljee object to them? Are they out of line with his Christian beliefs?

They are not, says the anonymous e-mailer, referring to the account of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 25. “Fighting poverty, hunger [and] environmental pollution are principles worth striving for, and also Christian, and can count on encouragement from the VSP in a broad sense.”

But then comes the rider. ‘However, Christian thinking also includes the notion that the world is broken. That makes the objective of ‘zero hunger’ (SDG 2) unachievable, and in practice requires continuous and unlimited government intervention. These are political choices which also have major drawbacks and risks attached to them.’


“Uljee agitates against what are known in certain circles as ‘lefty hobbies’”, comments Rietdijk. “In some respects he reminds me a bit of Thierry Baudet, who also sounds off like that in Parliament without a care for the democratic rules. But I want to hold Uljee to them.”

Uljee also complained in the meeting that he is being “demonised”. Rietdijk considers that accusation “vastly exaggerated”. The anonymous VSP e-mailer claims that ‘the group that disagrees with us often fails to offer substantive criticism, but tries instead to put us down with extreme labels such as ‘Nazis’ and ‘fascists’ … The current climate seems to normalise the demonisation of dissenters in an attempt to silence them.’

According to Westheim, Uljee wants “to create the impression” that people are unwilling to listen to him. “But that’s not true. We want to listen, but at the appointed times and in accordance with proper procedure. If everyone would speak before their turn, it would result in utter chaos.” In her view, “some USC members” don’t realise at first how procedural the Council’s work is. “Not everyone has the patience to invest in that.”

Video recordings

This is not the first time a meeting has been disrupted by Uljee. A few months ago, when he loudly reproached the Executive Board for not yet having responded to a request from the House of Representatives to submit a plan to curb the university’s internationalisation, another person was recording the exchange on video. Since that is against the rules, the meeting was suspended on that occasion as well.

Asked to comment on the uproar at 24 April meeting, Executive Board member Marcel Nollen informed us that the Executive Board appreciated the manner in which Rietdijk had intervened.




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