Language struggles continue

The University Councils blasts the Executive Board?s tough stance on English

In a letter to the Executive Board, the University Council has expressed its “displeasure” at how Rector Carel Stolker responded to a question posed in English by the Democratic Students Party The Hague (DSP) at the last month’s Council Meeting.

DSP mainly looks after the interests of students in The Hague who do not speak Dutch. Viktor Blichfeldt (International Studies), a Norwegian Council Member for the DSP, submitted a question about options for assistance to non-Dutch members of the Participation Council in October.

Stolker answered the questions in Dutch. When Blichfeldt asked if the Rector could switch to English, the Rector refused, which Blichfeldt thought was “a little bit rude”.

The University Council agrees with Blichfeldt and sent a letter to the Board to express its “displeasure” at the course of affairs. The Council is not pleased with the Board’s “tough stance, which means the exclusion of a member from the debate at the meeting”.

According to the Council, it is not democratic and is not what might be expected from a university that regards inclusivity and diversity as its core values. The letter says that there are “good reasons” for choosing to use English sometimes, such when a non-Dutch speaking member asks a question at the meeting. A short switch to English would be appropriate at such times. Furthermore, the Council suggests “exploring options for simultaneous interpretation and for adding short summaries in English to documents.”

The Board has responded to the Council’s letter. In its response, the Board stresses that the administrative language of the university is Dutch. “Passive fluency in Dutch is required for effective participation in such bodies. Dutch is needed to understand all the relevant documents and to follow the debates. Accordingly, international members are given the opportunity to improve their Dutch by attending language classes paid for by the body in question.”

The Board goes on to say that questions in English may be asked at the meeting or submitted in writing, but the answers will be given in Dutch. “We can understand that the services of interpreters might be used at the meetings on request and we are prepared to increase the budget for your Council by 2,000 Euros per annum to pay for those services.”

Blichfeldt is not very impressed by the Board’s letter. He sent Mare an email to say that it’s good that the Board will provide money for simultaneous interpreters for the Council. “But it’s only a first step. It would solve some of my problems in the Council, but the faculty councils need interpreters too.” Moreover, he thinks that English summaries of important papers should be available.

He’s not happy about the Dutch course either. “It’s almost impossible for students to achieve level B1 Dutch as the Board demands. You need to extra courses to get that far.” Costs: 840 Euros and another year at university. “Students don’t have that much time, especially if they’re working on their master’s degree. They’ll have finished their programme before they can join the Participation Council.”

Free lessons won’t solve the problem. “Either the Board drops the B1 requirement or they provide interpreters for every council. If the Board refuses to introduce one of these two solutions, they are basically saying to internationals: ‘You can’t take part in the democratic process at this university.’”

The University Council will discuss this issue with the Board on 10 December.

By Vincent Bongers

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