Saramifar calls Israel an apartheid state. And that description has led to a complaint with the university board who decided to monitor Saramifar’s lectures and to erase the ‘trigger warning’ Saramifar had written within the course’s description.
“After noticing some students were uncomfortable with my viewpoints, some four years ago, I wrote a trigger warning. The warning says two things: that in my lectures I come from the stance that Israel is an apartheid state and second that the wealth of most European states is built upon colonialism, genocide and oppression.
In no way are my students obliged to agree with me on these issues, I always encourage a good discussion in class. And the course is not obligatory, so if you can’t stand my approach, you can always choose a different subject, that is why I put it out.”
The past four years Saramifar’s viewpoints have never been a problem. On the contrary, his courses are reviewed very positively by students, Saramifar states.
However, by the start of the new term, in the beginning of January, Saramifar received an e-mail that his trigger warning was unacceptable to VU Amsterdam. And from the logins in Canvas he can see somebody has changed his text.
“Line by line someone erased it”, Saramifar states. Meanwhile the formal complaint never reached Saramifar himself. From then on, he started being monitored, which means – according to several sources – that someone is sitting in the back of his class to keep an eye on him and his students.
Hate mails and threats
Then, last Friday evening, Saramifar received a message from one of his students: newspaper Algemeen Dagblad had written an article on the whole affair. Rector Jeroen Geurts was quoted as saying Saramifar’s text was unacceptable to VU Amsterdam. Geurts: ‘First, I want you to know that the words used in the text and the tone of voice is not compatible with the viewpoints of the VU. Our education should always lead to a safe and educational academic debate. I very much regret that the used text resounds a political viewpoint’[translation AV].
Saramifar was perplexed by the appearance of the article. Especially since neither the newspaper, nor the rector, nor the faculty board contacted him about the whole affair. Immediately after the appearance of the article, Saramifar got hate mails and threatening letters, also at his home address.
Over the weekend some students of Saramifar composed a formal letter of complaint about how he is treated. “Dr. Younes Saramifar, is receiving unfair treatment and harassment from his superiors, along with violations of his rights as a VU Amsterdam employee due to the decolonial content of his work”, they write. By now, Monday afternoon, the letter has been signed 600 times.
“Four years ago I stated in an interview with Ad Valvas that academic freedom doesn’t exist here. I received quite some surprised reactions. But this is exactly what I meant. As a scientist you are free to express your viewpoints as long as these are in line with the views of the university.”
Rector Jeroen Geurts doesn’t want to comment to the issue now, as he says he wants to talk to Saramifar first.