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UU doesn’t see any reason to stop cooperating with Israeli universities

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Utrecht University does not intend to stop cooperating with Israeli universities. The Executive Board and the faculties of Social Sciences and Law, Economics & Governance have set aside recent criticism and adopted the same position as the Association of Dutch Universities (VSNU in the Dutch acronym).

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Layal Ftouni, Assistant Professor of Gender Studies and Critical Theory, and Itaï van de Wal, Master’s student of Legal Research, have recently published a joint op-ed piece on DUB calling upon the university to sever all bonds with Israeli universities. In their view, cooperation with institutes that violate human rights in Palestine is not acceptable.

When DUB asked the Executive Board to respond to the criticism, their spokesperson pointed to the position of the Association of Dutch Universities (VSNU) on the matter. In the opinion piece, the faculties of Law, Economics & Governance and Social Sciences are also addressed. Their deans have responded by e-mail.

Law, Economics & Governance Dean Janneke Plantenga declares that “international cooperation can raise questions about the nature and desirability of the cooperation”. According to her, the faculty complies with the guidelines set out by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Essentially, we may cooperate with all countries, unless there are national or international restrictions.”

Social Sciences Dean Marcel van Aken thinks that the situation in Israel is complicated and that there are multiple points of view. He follows VSNU's position, as does Plantenga. Both deans justify that position by writing that “universities are a safe haven for debate and research, which is why we do not condone boycotts.”

Asked to react to the discussion, VSNU stated that international cooperation is part of the academic world. “That way, we facilitate research together, working with the best people and learning from each other’s knowledge,” remarked spokesperson Ruben Puylaert.

“Academic freedom is of great importance here, which is why we drew up the framework on knowledge safety (PDF document in Dutch). The framework provides scientists and universities with starting points with which they can collaborate internationally, and we also tell them what to look out for in these partnerships. The guarantee of academic freedom and scientific integrity are key.”

This is not the first time that individuals within the university have called for a critical attitude towards international collaboration. Last year, the University Council defended that the Executive Board should critically review UU's relationships with universities in China and Hungary because of the human rights situation there.

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