‘We are living in turbulent times,’ the Executive Board wrote in a statement on the university website last week. ‘Various conflicts in other parts of the world at times give rise to feelings of anxiety, unrest and anger in our country too.’
The reason for these words was the closure of the Wijnhaven building in The Hague on the weekend of 13 October due to a ‘heightened security risk’. Interestingly, this was not done at the direction of the police or the municipality. According to the authorities, it was ‘the university’s own decision’. On Wednesday, dean Mark Rutgers explained during the Humanities Faculty Council meeting that the threat was external and did not come from within the academic community.
Back in September, students and staff who wanted to enter the Kamerlingh Onnes Building needed to show security guards their LU-Card. The university did not disclose the reason for those measures.
Nevertheless, the board announced last week that the LU-Card checks would be extended to the entire university 'to ensure that we are able to work and study in safety in the coming period’. Again, the university did not want to say anything about the reason behind the tightened controls. However, the board did state that ‘this measure is intended to give us a clear picture of who is present in the university and when, but it will also allow us to prevent people entering our buildings uninvited or without a valid reason.’
Mare decided to put the measures to the test and visited ten university buildings. From this round of visits, it appears that the extra security checks serve more as a deterrent than an actual security enhancement. Seven of the buildings could be visited without an LU-Card. At the old library building, the Kamerlingh Onnes building and the Wijnhaven building, security guards did ask for the card, but in the last two cases it was still possible to enter the building after showing someone else’s card.
Let’s start with the KOB. At the entrance are two security guards who ask Mare for an LU-Card. After showing someone else’s card, the reporter is allowed to enter. Upon enquiry at the front desk, it is revealed that the security guards are stationed there all day long. ‘If you can’t show a card, you can’t enter the building. If you show an LU-Card with a poorly visible photo, you won’t be allowed in either. Because that would mean anyone can enter.’
When Mare points out to the receptionist that they entered the building using someone else’s card, the security guard steps in. Suddenly, he wants to take another look at the photo. ‘Because I did notice a difference. You have stubble but I don’t see any on the photo.’
At the Wijnhaven building in The Hague, there is also a security guard stationed at the entrance on Tuesday morning. Once again, Mare presents an LU-Card belonging to another person with a very poorly visible photo. And once again, the reporter is allowed to enter. Shortly after, dozens of students rush into the building, all of whom briefly show their cards, with the security guard barely looking at the photos. Some students just show something on their phones as they do not have an LU-Card on hand.
Upon informing the security guard that the card shown does not belong to the Mare reporter, he responds that ‘you’re not allowed to be in possession of someone else’s card’. When asked why he doesn’t look at the visitors’ photos, he says: ‘It’s very busy at the moment, normally there are two or three security guards here. If I were to take a closer look at everyone’s photo, students would be late for their lectures, which we want to avoid.’
At seven other buildings, Mare could simply walk in on Monday afternoon without being checked. These are Lipsius, the Academy Building, the University Library, Van Steenis, Arsenaal, Gorlaeus and Pieter de la Court. Most of these buildings have a sign at the entrance that reads: ‘You may be asked to show your LU-Card today. No access without a valid LU-Card.’
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On Tuesday, Mare photographer Taco van der Eb was going to take a picture of the security measures at the KOB, but was ejected from the building by three security guards. ‘I entered the building and two security guards asked me what I was doing there,’ says Van der Eb after the incident. ‘The front desk employee then said that I was not allowed because I hadn’t asked permission beforehand. This is true, because normally that’s not required. I’ve been coming here for twenty-five years and never had any trouble. I explained this to him, after which he called his superior.’
He told Van der Eb that only university staff are allowed to take photos now. ‘I told him too that I’ve been taking photographs here for twenty-five years and everyone has always been kind and helpful. But they insisted it wasn’t possible.’ Then ‘another security guard arrived and stood imposingly in front of me,’ says the photographer. ‘He clearly wanted to make a statement. The security guards watched me until I reached my bike at the corner of the KOB.’
University spokesperson Caroline van Overbeeke says the freelance photographer ‘could not present an LU-Card, and therefore did not have the right to access’.
She also says that ‘normally, our buildings are not publicly accessible either’, so ‘even then the photographer is not, in fact, allowed to just enter’. According to her, people in the buildings may not be photographed without permission. ‘And taking photos of security guards is absolutely out of the question, because by doing so you are potentially harming the effect of the measures and the people who are supposed to carry them out.’
Checks are carried out at random in these buildings, explain the receptionists on duty. ‘So security guards may ask for your LU-Card during spot checks,’ says a Lipsius front desk employee. ‘Just like preventive checks on the street by the police, where you always have to carry an ID.’
The Academy Building and Faculty Club can also be accessed without checks on Monday afternoon.
A receptionist explains that it is ‘more difficult to check everyone’ that afternoon because there is a graduation ceremony. ‘This means there are also a lot of parents here who don’t have an LU-Card. But we’re becoming more and more vigilant about it.’
At the entrance to Gorlaeus, there is no security or receptionist to be found at all. A student reading the notice sign says to another student: ‘Oh, that’s odd.’ Mare sits in on the ‘Decision making’ lecture in Room 1 without any issues, and a lecture on linear algebra for computer scientists in Room 4/5 is also easily accessible.
A service manager at the Faculty of Science wants to remain anonymous because he once said something in another medium that he got ‘in trouble’ for and he ‘doesn’t want to deal with that again’. He says that in Van Steenis and Gorlaeus, ‘checks are also only carried out at fixed times’. He says he does not know why in some buildings LU-Cards are only checked by means of spot checks, while other buildings have constant security at the entrance.
When asked what they do when a student or staff member does not have a card on them, most of the receptionists reply that they are not allowed to enter the building in that case. A receptionist at the Pieter de la Court building is less strict: ‘If you can show on your phone that you’re part of this university, you can enter. But soon that will probably no longer be an option because we will be enforcing stricter rules.’
Guests who are not affiliated with the university can also still enter all buildings, provided that they have an appointment and report to the reception upon arrival. ‘Your presence is then registered,’ says the service manager. ‘If you have no appointment AND no LU-Card, you’re not allowed inside.’
None of the receptionists and security guards claim to know the reason for the tightened controls or how long they will be necessary. ‘All I know is what is stated on the university website, as clear or unclear as it may be,’ says a receptionist at Lipsius. ‘I come from a time when people hung strings out of their mail slots so neighbours could just walk in. But times have changed.’
The one building where nothing seems to have changed at all is the university library. ‘Students and staff could already only pass through the entrance gates with an LU-Card,’ says a front desk employee. The library’s cafeteria, however, is accessible to everyone.
University spokesperson Caroline van Overbeeke does not want to say why some buildings have constant security, while in others students and staff members are asked for their LU-Card only during spot checks. She describes the security measures as ‘customised’, but cannot divulge the reason behind it ‘because that would reveal something about our security approach’. She also refuses to disclose whether it is only the university, or also the police who see the need for the heightened security this time. ‘We have valid reasons for handling things this way.’
The fact that Mare was able to enter buildings with other people’s cards as well could just be ‘a fluke’, according to Van Overbeeke. ‘In any case, checking for possession of an LU-Card raises a barrier.’
She does not answer the question of whether security will be tightened, as one doorman suggested, by refusing students who do not carry an LU-Card from now on. Nor is there any known end date for the checks. ‘We can’t specify when security will be stricter or less strict. Security measures can vary from building to building and even from day to day.’
Other universities have also been more vigilant in recent weeks, a quick enquiry reveals. But there are certain differences. ‘We believe the buildings should remain as publicly accessible as possible.’
At Radboud University Nijmegen, vigilance was intensified during the introduction week for first-year students last August, says Hans van Weert of the Safety & Security department. ‘There was a new, far-right student association at the Intro Market. A brawl broke out there, causing a commotion. We’ve been more alert ever since.’
This has resulted, for instance, in extra security at events ‘where there is a higher chance of disturbances’, says Van Weert. ‘In principle, everything can go ahead, we haven’t called off any events yet.’
For example, just last Friday there was a demonstration by Extinction Rebellion in the university’s main cafeteria and last week, a pro-Palestine demonstration was held. ‘This had not been announced, but in consultation with the Executive Board we decided to let it go ahead,’ says Van Weert. ‘The board is eager to maintain an open dialogue and continue to offer opportunities to demonstrate.’
For now, visitors at the Nijmegen university do not have to identify themselves with a student or employee ID card. ‘We believe the buildings should remain as publicly accessible as possible.’
The University of Groningen tightened its security measures over a month ago. ‘Our doors used to be completely open to everyone, but now certain doors can only be opened with a student or employee card,’ says spokesperson Elies Kouwenhoven. ‘This was already the case before the Israel-Palestine conflict flared up. There have been other incidents here that underlie this decision, but due to security concerns, I can’t provide many details.’ She does say that the measure is implemented indefinitely. Last April, Groningen students occupied the Academy building in protest against the dismissal of lecturer Susanne Täuber.
‘There is currently no need for students and staff to identify themselves on a structural basis at our university,’ says Utrecht University spokesperson Annelies Waterlander. In principle, events on sensitive topics can also go ahead. ‘Last week we had a lecture by a student association on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and this week we’ll have another one. We do actively ask staff and students who want to organise something to report it to the security department.’
Delft University and the University of Amsterdam are not willing to provide insight into how they currently regulate security ‘for safety reasons’.
In response to the question of whether Leiden University would allow a pro-Palestine demonstration to go ahead, university spokesperson Caroline van Overbeeke says: ‘We consider the content of each requested event and whether it can go ahead without additional security risks. Should an event require extra security due to higher risks, we try to organise this.’