Column: Bob van Vliet

The same column every month

For the exchange of arguments in public, reasoned debate, you’re in the wrong place at TU Delft, writes columnist Bob van Vliet. This is starting to make him cynical.

Bob van Vliet: “Door iedereen langs één meetlat te leggen, wordt het geheel onterecht een apolitiek gebeuren.” (Foto: Sam Rentmeester)

For a piece in the study association’s yearbook, I was asked: ‘Do you think that as a columnist for Delta and a professor, you set an example which could steer the direction of opinions at TU Delft?’

I find it funny that students see everyone that gives lectures as the same, while behind the scenes our institution is so hierarchical. I have given up correcting students when they email me saying ‘Dear Professor’.

The answer to the question of whether I think that teachers have an exemplary role is simple: yes, of course they do. And I think everyone that does have a fancy academic title should take this role more seriously, as I have written before.

Do I think that I can influence the direction of opinions or even that of TU Delft? Ha! No way.

More and more often, I feel that I write essentially the same column every month. An argument, moreover, that’s never answered. Which in turn exactly illustrates what I get so worked up about. Regular readers must have noticed that my tone has shifted over the last year. Less reflection. More accusation. Anger. Frustration. And as of today: cynicism.

Like-minded people give me compliments. They email me saying that they agree. Colleagues tell me – whispering! – that they feel supported. That it is good that someone dares express such criticism. I rarely get responses with counter-arguments. Let alone publicly. People sometimes ask if I ever get into trouble after criticising the Executive Board, directors, or deans. If only! There is never even an answer.

Our university feels too little like a university

Of course, it’s fine if people could care less about what I think. After all, who am I? But it is not as though a substantive, public, reasoned debate does ensue when – to give a random example – trade unions or legal experts make mincemeat of repressive university policies.

Our university feels too little like a university. More like an R&D department. With a glorified vocational training section. Or a company. Where everyone carefully stays within the boundaries of their job description. Where little serious thought is given to the public role of our institution. To its responsibilities. Or its relationship to the world around us. It certainly does not happen visibly.

In the meantime, an entire community is being wiped off the face of the earth in Gaza. With technologies that were partly developed here. And with the support of institutions and companies that TU Delft is friends with.

You could organize discussion about this. About what it asks of us. Make an attempt at getting the facts straight. To publicly assess each other’s arguments in light of them. Or not. Our management refuses this. And almost no one seems to be concerned about that. Not visibly.

What example does this set? That TU Delft is not the place for the exchange of arguments in public, reasoned debate. If that’s something you’re interested in, just go to a university or something.

Bob van Vliet is a lecturer at the faculties of Mechanical Engineering and Architecture and the Built Environment and is specialised in design education.

Columnist Bob van Vliet

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