“The police has cleared the occupied Bungehuis. It’s empty!”
The news spread quickly among students of the University of Amsterdam this morning. As I made my way through the library to find a free desk, I heard countless whispers and murmurs. The Bungehuis – a building that houses the faculty of Social Sciences and that had been occupied by a group of students on the 13th of February, was being cleared by the police. A group of people had barricaded themselves inside the building for 11 consecutive days and they were now being escorted/arrested by the police
The protest began on the 13th of February, approximately a week after it became publicly known that the administration of the University had closed a deal with the real estate company behind Soho Clubs. This could mean that the premises that housed teaching staff and students will most likely be transformed to accommodate an exclusive club for professionals of creative industries. Additionally, a reserved document that lists the reforms for the academic year 2016 was published. According to the document, master programs with fewer than 20 students would be eliminated and PhD funding would be significantly reduced.
In light of this news, students of various faculties, different universities or activist groups (Humanities Rally, Students of the Faculty of Natural Science, the Free University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam University College) barricaded themselves inside the building for a total of 11 days. They drafted a manifesto demanding a real democratization of decision-making processes that shape the life of the university. Summed up, these are the points put forward by the group.
- Democratization of central decision-making in the University of Amsterdam
- Decentralization of administrative decision: from top-down to bottom-up
- Financial Transparency
- Stop the ”tacit” fusion of the University of Amsterdam with the Free University
- No requirment of publication, removal performance and efficiency indicators
- A labor regime that offers more security to the teaching staff
After the first negotiation attempts between the occupiers and the central administration, an open was published by the latter in which in the latter offered the protesters an alternative space for protesting. The offer was rejected. The central administration threatened to issue and injunction against: anyone found in the building would be subject to a fine of up to 100,000 EUR per day. Several among the academic staff signed an open letter against this harsh measure .
On the 19th of February the Amsterdam District Court ruled in favor of the University. However, the fine was reduced to 1,000 EUR per day. The President of the Executive Board wrote:
“We are extremely happy with the outcome. We now hope that the protestors will voluntarily leave the building, and that students and staff will be able to return to the Bungehuis on Monday to resume their teaching and research duties. We will also enter into a dialogue with students and staff in the near future to discuss some of the issues at hand.”
Despite the monetary threat, the occupiers did not give in. In the days that followed marches took place in solidarity of the occupiers and the action gained prominence locally and internationally. Noam Chomsky co-signed and endorsed a petition in support of the occupiers. On the social media the hash-tag #bungehuis spread quickly and so grew the curiosity of people and the question “how will this end?”
This morning the previous question was answered, as police officers stormed into the building. The little utopia that students had attempted to create had crumbled under the pressure of authority. Some may argue that the protest were foolish and their demands unreasonable. After all, the ultimate decision-making power lies in the hand of the central governments who can dictate nationwide policies and not in the hands of the individual Executive Boards of Universities.
Regardless of in whose hands the power to change universities lies, the protesters have succeeded in showing that discontent exists. That is the value of this initiative!
9:28PM: The effect of the clearing has so far not silenced the movement: a march will take place tomorrow in front of the Bungehuis at 5:00PM
25.02 Student marched along the canals of Amsterdam and improvised a sit-in protest in front of the buildings of the Central Administration of the University of Amsterdam