A Dutch right-wing populist party set up by an ex-academic has renewed its attack on universities following its election victory, setting up a “hotline” for reports and videos of left-wing “indoctrination” by lecturers.
The antimulticulturalism, anti-European Union Forum for Democracy was launched as a political party in 2016 by 36-year-old former Leiden University law lecturer Thierry Baudet – a movement born from his Leiden PhD thesis, his former supervisor told Times Higher Education last week.
The Forum for Democracy gained more votes than any other party in provincial elections for the upper house of the Dutch parliament held on 20 March (although it only won 14.5 per cent of the vote).
Since the election, the party has provoked outrage among many in Dutch universities and condemnation from the education minister by setting up a “hotline” for “reporting indoctrination at schools and universities”, inviting videos and other evidence of supposed left-wing bias in teaching.
This followed Mr Baudet’s election victory speech, in which he said that “civilisation” was being destroyed “by the people who should protect us”. He went on to say: “We are undermined by our universities, by our journalists, by the people who receive our art grants and who design our buildings.”
The Forum for Democracy “hotline” has brought condemnation from a number of Dutch university presidents and rectors, although it is widely regarded as a political stunt.
Carel Stolker, Leiden’s rector magnificus and president, said in a tweet that the hotline was “idiotic” and an attempt to attract attention. Universities were among the world’s most enduring institutions, he said.
Martin Paul, president of Maastricht University, told Times Higher Education: “Although I am generally not getting nervous about political soundbites, the recent statement of Mr Baudet that universities are a sort of ‘enemy of the people’ needs to be corrected.
“Also, the action of his party to create a ‘hotline for reporting indoctrination at school and universities’ goes against everything we stand for: free speech, tolerance, openness and respect for each other. As academic communities, we need to take a strong stand against anybody who is trying to undermine our academic principles.”
Earlier this year, THE reported that academics around the world were increasingly facing threats of secret recording and denunciation online by their own students, as tactics used by far-right activists in the US have been taken up in nations including Germany, Brazil and Hungary.
An open letter circulated among Dutch university staff expresses alarm “at the recent actions and statements” of the Forum for Democracy and Mr Baudet.
“Given the strong interest Baudet expresses in dismissing climate science and promoting history based on national pride, it is clear that this initiative is not genuinely interested in reducing bias in academic institutions,” says the letter. “Rather, it is interested in selectively discounting knowledge that does not fit its political and ideological aims.”
The letter urges Dutch academics to unite in making clear that “our society will not tolerate any political infringement on the freedom to conduct critical academic research and education”.