'This is nearly impossible to explain.’
The question asked to the Board member was how on earth it can be explained to outsiders what happened to Lijst Vooruitstrevende Studenten (LVS). How could the student party get so torn apart in the span of one month that a quarter of its members left?
Let’s try to break it down anyway.
The starting point for the implosion was an amendment submitted by three Council members last month. In it, they proposed a merger with student parties ONS and DSP prior to the University Council elections to be held in April (spoiler alert: the other parties were completely unaware of this and did not even want it, see text box below).
In response to this, eight (former) Council members and (former) Board members of LVS wrote an urgent letter expressing their concerns about this plan: according to them, this was not the right procedure and members were not given enough say. To add weight to this message, one of them contacted the party's two founders, who then co-signed the letter.
However, this caused bad blood with the Advisory Board and the so-called Presidium (a body that ensures procedures are conducted in accordance with the rules). This was because association rules stipulate that it is prohibited to share internal information with people who are not (or no longer) members of the party, even if they are the founders. The Presidium spoke of ‘a breach of trust’. The only appropriate punishment: expulsion of all eight letter writers.
However, the Association Board, the only body with the authority to carry out expulsions, refused to do so because, according to Board chair Lauren van IJll, more investigation was needed first. This meant that the letter writers still had access to the General Meeting of Members (ALV) on Saturday 9 December, where the merger plans were discussed. But the meeting turned into complete chaos: the Presidium took control of the ALV and ordered all letter writers to leave. As a result, it was mainly those in favour of the merger who remained, Van IJll told Mare at the time.
The Presidium then had the members vote on a possible readmission of this group to the ALV. A majority voted against, followed by laughter and cheers. ‘I found that very strange and inhumane,’ said Van IJll about the incident.
But the fate of the letter writers remained unclear. ‘There has been an attempted coup, but we’re going to do everything we can to find a proper solution,’ the Board chair promised.
That happened in mid-December.
A month later, the disastrous consequences of the conflict over the (doomed) merger have become clear: LVS has effectively brought about its own downfall. How did it come to this?
‘Expelling the letter writers was not an option,’ says Board member Albert Taal. That left two options. ‘Either we resign, but then we can no longer protect the letter writers, or we continue and temporarily suspend the members who misbehaved during the ALV on 9 December so that we can calmly investigate all the events.’
THIRTY MEMBERS SUSPENDED
They opted for the latter. And so, around 30 members - more than a third of the total number - received an email stating that they were suspended until the 11 January ALV. Among them were the two members of the Presidium and the two members of the Advisory Board. Taal: ‘During the ALV on 9 December, the Presidium sidelined us and kicked a group of members out of the ALV, just like that. On top of that, they wanted us to expel all eight letter writers, even though only one of them - who has since resigned - contacted the founders. We find all of this highly objectionable.’
The Advisory Board was suspended in part because the Board felt pressured by them to expel the letter writers, whereas the Board wanted to investigate first. Moreover, the Advisory Board can only offer advice to the Board and not impose anything. ‘It felt like a motion of censure,’ says Taal.
The Board also invited all 30 members for an individual conversation. Less than a third of them accepted. No one from the Presidium or the Advisory Board showed up. ‘It's very unfortunate,’ says Taal.
For some of the members, the suspension was lifted after the conversation, because they were able to prove they had not done anything improper or were found to be not fully aware of what was going on. Other members, including those who did not accept the Board's invitation, remained suspended until the ALV on 11 January.
During that meeting, the charges were laid out for each suspended person. Those suspended were given another opportunity to tell their story, after which the members got to vote on their fate: reverse the suspension, expel the member or have the member resign. ‘In the end, the ALV expelled three members,’ Taal says.
One of them is University Council member Ebrar Kaya, also a member of the Advisory Board. ‘There had been complaints about his person, but I can’t go into detail about that,’ says Taal. He does, however, acknowledge that the conversation in December between Board chair Lauren van IJll and Kaya, in which Van IJll felt pressured to expel the letter writers with immediate effect, contributed to it.
According to Kaya, his expulsion was “unjust” because all 30 members who were suspended lost their voting rights. Only those present who had not been suspended were able to vote on the fate of the suspended members. ‘So this was basically a coup by the Board.’
‘Who is sidelining whom?’ responds Taal. ‘It was an emergency measure; we saw no other option. We explicitly gave the suspended members the opportunity to defend themselves at the ALV. In other associations, people are suspended for less.’
Kaya also thinks his Turkish background, and the ethnicity of other suspended members, may have played a role. ‘Of the 30 members on the Board’s suspension and expulsion list, many are from marginalised communities.’
According to the Board, this allegation is nonsense. ‘Ebrar tried to defend himself during the ALV by bringing up discrimination. But he didn’t provide any substantive arguments. We are an association based on diversity and inclusion.’
Kaya also denies that he rejected the invitation to talk to the Board. ‘The invitation was sent during the Christmas holidays. I responded to this after New Year's with multiple availabilities each day.’
The two other expelled members are a former Board member and Faculty Council member of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FSW) Eleanor Daw. For now, none of the three have indicated they will appeal.
But that was not the end of it. ‘About 20 members resigned,’ says Taal, due to dissatisfaction with the course of events or because they wanted to avoid the indignity of being expelled.
‘We had about eighty members and now we’ve fallen below sixty. It’s quite a loss,’ says Taal. After all, many of the resigned LVS members are Council members in the University or Faculty Council. ‘There will be elections again in a few months’ time, but until then, we lose considerable political influence. The Council members no longer represent LVS but will continue as independent members; I don’t think anyone is giving up a seat.’
One of the members who has terminated his membership is University Council member Jeppe Bandringa. He is one of the suspended members and during the 11 January ALV, he was on the list for possible expulsion by the members. ‘He is one of the three members who submitted the amendment on the merger plans,’ says Taal. ‘He did not accept our invitation for a conversation but instead had seven Council members sign a document demanding that the suspension be reversed. As a University Council member, he has an exemplary role, but we don’t think this reflects that. On the evening of the ALV, we received the message that he had resigned.’
‘It was impossible to continue as a member,’ Bandringa responds. ‘Suspension is too severe a measure, because it means you can no longer voice your opinion at the ALV. It was a grave mistake on the Board’s part.’
Bandringa says he rejected a conversation because the Board had called it ‘a hearing’ in the invitation. ‘That made it feel threatening and intimidating. If it hadn’t been announced under such circumstances and I hadn’t been suspended in advance, I would have come.’
The Board admits that the term ‘hearing’ was too strong. ‘That was what we called it in the announcement email,’ Taal responds. ‘I can imagine that it sounds a bit intimidating. But in the invitation itself, we called it an interview.’
Bandringa also thinks that the letter to the Board that he had other Council members sign to retract the suspension is justifiable. ‘By denying so many members voting rights, the Board has made democracy within the association impossible. In my view, this constitutes an abuse of power.’
The two other Council members with whom he submitted the merger proposal also resigned. Looking back on the amendment that started all this turmoil, Bandringa has mixed feelings. ‘Our proposal to merge as early as March was ill-fated. That was totally infeasible. But I was in favour of merging at some point in the future.’
Both Kaya and Bandringa will continue in the University Council as independent members. ‘I will keep working with the other Council members who left LVS,’ says Kaya.
Taal thinks there is ‘a good chance’ that the departed members will form a new party together. Ironically, that would mean that instead of reducing the number of parties - the aim of a merger - the university would actually end up with more parties. Bandringa and Kaya say there is no intention of forming a new party yet.
The letter writers are relieved, says an honorary member who wishes to remain anonymous. ‘We feel relief at the fact that we haven’t been expelled. At the same time, this entire course of events is not what we had imagined for LVS. We regret that all of this happened.’
Student parties ONS and DSP were completely unaware that some members of LVS wanted to merge with them.
‘The Board and I were very surprised,’ says ONS University Council member Jurian Calis. ‘We didn’t know about this at all until we read about it in Mare. This idea was also brought up two years ago, but it never really took shape. For us, a merger is not a top priority. We have our own identity and stand for the active student who is part of an association. But we will talk to our members to see how they feel about this.’
Chair of DSP Max Adams says he was also not involved in the merger plan. ‘We are, however, always open to working together in the University and Faculty Council, as we currently do. DSP focuses on international students and Campus The Hague. We will continue doing that.’