What was up with the Bungehuis?

Maybe you heard about it, maybe you did not, but history was made in Amsterdam this past week. In 1969, in Tilburg as well as in Amsterdam, students occupied various university buildings out of protest against reforms in Higher Education. It happened multiple times after that, but this week was one of the biggest occupations since the ones in 1969. Yesterday, police and special forces ended the occupation, arresting 46 students. Was it all worth it?

On Friday 13 February students and employees of the University of Amsterdam (UvA) occupied the Bungehuis, home of the Faculty of Humanities. They barricaded the doors and hung banners from the windows. A paper on the front of the building read: “This building is occupied! By students and teachers in their struggle for free, democratic and emancipatory education. […] The occupation will last until our demands are met. Long live the Bungehuis revolution!” The demands were:

1. Democratic election of the university board
2. Change of the allocation model: finance based on input, not on efficiency
3. Cancellation of the current Profiel 2016
4. Referendums per institute and programme about collaboration between the UvA and the VU at the FNWI (Faculty of Science)
5. Fixed contracts instead of flexible staff appointments
6. An open debate about housing costs in relation to budget cuts of reseach and education.
In connection to this: retaining the Bungehuis as UvA-location

Profiel 2016
With this, the Bungehuis occupants joined in the tradition of de Maagdenhuis and Tilburg University occupants of 1969: again the goal was more democracy. ‘The current Profiel 2016’ means the university’s plans to reform the Faculty of Humanities thoroughly. Six language studies will disappear, because they are ‘unprofitable’, and the faculty wants to work with clustered first years.

Despite repeated calls for evacuation from the UvA, the occupants stayed in the Bungehuis, organized lectures and invited new people in. During the week, more and more people declared themselves sympathizers of the occupation. Meanwhile, the university wanted to talk to the occupants, but only if they left the building. They refused, and the university started to use force: through summary proceedings, they demanded that the students left the Bungehuis and cleaned everything, or each student would have to pay a penalty payment of 100.000 euros a day. On top of that, 29 PhD students and employees of the Amsterdam Center for Language and Communication stated they supported the goals, but not the occupation: they believed that the occupation disrupted the work of PhD students and their subjects.

New University
In the days that followed, the occupants got the support from politicians, students and teachers, but people also dissociated themselves from the actions. On the 19th of February, after numerous tries to get the ‘New University’, as the occupants call themselves, and the board of the UvA around the table, the judge decided that the protesters had to leave the Bungehuis. Most of them chose to stay. On the 22th, both parties talked, but did not reach a solution and on Monday the university made a final proposal. When the New University rejected this, the police started to clear the premises by yesterday morning. 46 people were arrested and 43 of them have spent the night in a police cell. The protests are still ongoing online and in today’s newspapers. This afternoon, there will be a protest march.

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