Dutch students organize for University reforms, 1968-1971

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Time Period:  
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
Leyden, Tilburg, Nijmegen
Location Description: 
various universities across the Netherlands
To democratize university functions.

Unlike the United States during the 1960s, the Netherlands did not have an atmosphere of racial strife or international conflict. The relative peace of the Netherlands was one potential reason why student protests for university reform first manifested as student unionism in support of democratization. Movements calling for similar university reforms occurred between 1967 and 1968 in Germany and France. The Dutch students’ protest influenced the restructuring of the Netherlands’ university system. Through their campaign, university function became more democratic; included in the new system were committees and councils including students and non-academic staff, whose voices had been limited in the previous system.

Traditionally, Dutch universities were public and managed by the state. A Board of Curators (College van Curatoren) was responsible for upholding laws and regulations implemented by the government over universities, maintaining the quality of the teaching programmes, academic buildings, and university possessions. The Curatoren also administered university finances. Gradually the Curatoren’s role shifted to become more organizational rather than policy oriented.

A committee known as the Maris committee was established to create a new formal university structure. In 1968, the Maris committee submitted a proposal to eliminate the current reign of dual authority between Curatoren and Senate. Instead, they planned to introduce a hierarchical system by which professors would report to departmental deans, and the deans would report to a central governing board with broad power known as the Presidium.

Professors, who feared for their relative autonomy under the current structure, and students, who viewed the Maris formula as an effort to gear higher education towards production goals, protested the Maris Committee’s proposals, and they were not implemented. By the time the 1968-1969 academic year began, the students’ and professors’ revolt against the Maris scheme had increased tensions across campuses.

The first protests of the campaign, led by students, occurred at two Catholic universities in Tilburg and Nijmegen. Students viewed these two universities as representing the hierarchical and totalitarian structure of the Catholic Church. The first student union was established at the Catholic University in Tilburg.

In April 1969, students from the Catholic College of Economic and Social Sciences at Tilburg occupied the telephone exchange to express their dissatisfaction with the slow progress from the student and faculty committee assembled to formulate a new proposal for a university constitution. Tilburg Curatoren closed the college, and students occupied the entire campus in protest. The Tilburg protest sparked excitement at other campuses, notably Leyden where further protests occurred.

On 1 May 1969 the General Leyden Student Association held a meeting and demanded that the Senate and Curatoren take a clear position in respect to the conflict at Tilburg. By the following day, the students presented their demands as an ultimatum, which threatened coercion within four days if the authorities did not issue a public statement both disapproving of the lockout in Tilburg and allowing members of the Leyden scientific staff to go to Tilburg and teach.

On 5 May, Senate members, including professors, lecturers, and scientific staff conferred at a meeting where, for the first time in years, a wide disagreement emerged concerning what policy should be adopted in response to student protest. The Senate formed a compromise by which members stated they deplored the conflict, and they believed that further statements would not lead to a termination of the conflict.

This compromise did not appease the student movement. The students formulated a new ultimatum to expire on 8 May demanding co-decision and openness. Universities would be required to allow members of all categories of the community to vote on committee decisions. The universities would also obligate university committees to convene publicly and make any meetings or memoranda openly available, in compliance with student demands.

On 8 May the Senate agreed to co-decision among parties, but it was unwilling to comply with the demand for openness. Over one thousand students and other protesters attended this protest meeting. Towards the end of the meeting, a motion was adopted to permanently continue the meeting in the Main University Building to facilitate open and fair discussion, meeting the second demand. The authorities also agreed to form a new Committee on Structure to draft a new Constitution. In Tilburg and at other Dutch Universities, the Minister of Education also agreed to the conciliatory policies of co-decision and openness.

In Leyden, professors and lecturers, scientific staff, technical and clerical personnel, and students began to discuss the Committee on Structure. Ultimately it was decided that three general meetings would be held in October with a final vote in the beginning of December. However, the Committee on Structure did not begin meeting until June 1970 and finally submitted its proposal in April 1971.
In January 1969, the Minister presented a memorandum (Nota Bestuurshervorming van de Universiteien en Hogescholen) outlining the principles for university government reform. At this stage of the protests, both conservative and progressive factions had formed. The conservative faction drafted a petition to Parliament with objections to WUB stating that it extended too large a share of policy-making to unqualified people. One hundred and forty four of three hundred professors and lecturers signed. In contrast, the progressive faction prepared a memorandum known as “Academic Freedom and Societal Responsibility,” pleading for a new vision on academic freedom that was signed by 42 lecturers.

In February 1970, the Minister of Education and Science issued Wet Universitaire Betuurshervorming (University Government Reorganization Act), which was adopted by both houses of Parliament. In December, parliament passed the bill. The law became effective on 1 January 1972. WUB democratized university functions. It replaced existing authority with elected councils and boards at all levels of university function. These included: departments, sub-faculties, faculties, and the university as a whole. Students, academic staff, and senior administrators among others all sat as members on various committees. The law was experimental and originally intended to only last until 1976 but was extended until 1982.

Research Notes
Daadler, Hans. 1974. “The Dutch Universities Between the "New Democracy" and the "New Management".” Minerva 12(2):221-257.

Lammers, Cornelis J. 1974. “Localism, Cosmpolitanism, and Faculty Response.” Sociology of Education 47(1):129-158. Retrieved February 6, 2015 (http://www.jstor.org/stable/2112170 .).

Locke, Grahame. 1989. “The Collectivisation of the Dutch Universities.”Minerva 27(2/3):157-176. Retrieved February 4, 2015 (http://www.jstor.org/stable/41820764 .).

Maassen, Peter and Egbert de Weert. 1999. “The Troublesome Dutch University and Its Route 66 Towards a New Governance Structure.”Higher Education Policy 329-342. Retrieved February 6, 2015 (www.elsevier.com/locate/highedpol).

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
ShaKea Alston 11/02/2015