'Rector was a little rude'

Photo by Taco van der Eb'Rector magnificus' Carel Stolker during October 3rd celebrations, 2017

The Democratic Students Party collided with rector magnificus Carel Stolker during the University Council’s meeting.

Though the university’s population is becoming increasingly international, the official language remains Dutch. This is a barrier for foreign students and staff who want to participate in the university’s decision making process. A fact which became painfully obvious during the meeting between the university board and the university council, last monday.

The Democratic Students Party (DSP) has a seat on the council and is mostly focused on representing the student population in The Hague. A lot of students and staff there do not master Dutch. The Norwegian Viktor Blichfeldt, council member for DSP and international studies student, inquired to the university board about possibilities to support non-Dutch council members. However, when Carel Stolker answered, he did so in Dutch. Blichfeldt carefully interrupted him, and asked him if he could answer in English. Usually, during meetings, Blichfeldt had a volunteer translator present, but he had to leave early for a class.

Stolker, however, refused. ‘No, I will answer in Dutch if you don’t mind.’ Blichfeldt did mind and protested, but Stolker continued: ‘I will do it carefully and slowly.’ Het then continued to explain that the university’s official language is Dutch. ‘That means that ‘the “medezeggenschap” (employee and student participation) is also in Dutch. We don’t mind if someone with enough command of the English language responds in English during a meeting. But you have to be able to read the documents, which are written in Dutch.’

‘If you do not respond to my question in English, then I will not be able to give a reaction’, Blichfeldt responded, who felt sidelined by the board. Stolker, again in Dutch: ‘But you have a translator. Oh, he left.’ Charlotte de Roon, president of the university council, maneuvered away from the uncomfortable situation: ‘Let’s continue.’

‘I found it disappointing, and frankly a little rude that he kept on refusing to answer in English’, Blichfeldt expressed afterwards. ‘He just didn’t want to communicate with me. We respect that Dutch is the official language, and we have no ambition to change that. But the university’s language policy guidelines also state that if there is a good reason to choose English, you can. Also, Stolker didn’t really answer my questions, the other council members told me.’

Blichfeldt wants non-Dutch students and staff to be able to participate in the councils. ‘We have talked with councils from other universities and there is a solution: simultaneous translation.’ Het understands that not all documents can be translated: ‘Groningen University supplied an English summary with all documents, so you can see if it is relevant.’ The other council members support Blichfeldt, he says. ‘We are currently in a language quagmire, and we really need to get out. I can’t do my job. It’s very frustrating.’

By Vincent Bongers

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