In parliament this week, right-wing parties clashed with parties on the left on how to combat racism and discrimination in higher education and research.
The VVD and SGP in particular were critical of the new national action plan for more diversity and inclusion. What does diversity have to do with quality in academia, the parties wondered.
Dennis Wiersma, an MP for the liberal-conservative VVD party, asked if educational institutions are supposed to start keeping lists of people’s ethnicities and migration backgrounds. Because how else would we be able to measure the action plan’s effectiveness? And what if those lists become the main metric for assessing quality in academia?
Wouldn’t it be better to judge people on their merits instead of on their migration background, Wiersma wondered. After all, no one should be reduced to one single trait that helps fill a diversity quota. He called the proposed plans a form of ‘racist paternalism’.
But the problem is precisely that people are currently not being judged on individual merit, GroenLinks MP Lisa Westerveld countered. People are not receiving equal treatment, which means that women and people with a non-Western migration background have a harder time succeeding in academia. Doesn’t the VVD recognise this problem?
After Wiersma had evaded the question, MPs from two other parties – D66 and PvdA – tried again: was Wiersma perhaps unwilling to acknowledge the problem? Didn’t he believe that there was an issue here that should be combated? In the end, Wiersma did concede that there was a problem, but he still couldn’t get behind the action plan’s approach.
The VVD wants a currently ongoing study into ethnic diversity in higher education and research to be stopped immediately, and the party is also opposed to the founding of a national knowledge centre for diversity.
Roelof Bisschop, of the Christian-conservative SGP party, also had serious misgivings about the action plan, especially with regard to the gender ideology he believes it to promote. The action plan mentions “subtle and less subtle forms of gender bias”, which the SGP finds rather vague. If your opinion on the roles of men and women is different from the political mainstream – as is the case for the SGP – the action plan implicitly accuses you of being biased.
Bisschop is all in favour of combating racism and removing obstacles for the disabled, but the differences between men and women, which according to him stem from the “natural order of things”, fall into an entirely different category as far as he’s concerned. The opposition’s objections made little impression on the Christian-conservative politician.
“It continues to amaze me how much resistance the pursuit of more diversity evokes in this country”, Minister Van Engelshoven (D66) responded with exasperation, making no attempt whatsoever to meet her critics halfway. “If only we lived in a society where people were judged on their individual qualities”, she said. “Because if we did, our universities would look much more diverse.”
Some might call Van Engelshoven an activist, but she doesn’t mind that label. She sees all kinds of social movements that want society to regress, which she is determined to prevent. “Some activism is needed to ensure that the Netherlands remains a progressive country in this area.”
But that doesn’t mean that the Minister isn’t open to criticism. Earlier today, GroenLinks requested an investigation into the dropout rate of pregnant women in higher education and research. The Minister welcomed the comment, and stated that she would look into the matter.