Our University following the tendency towards a more and more business-like and less university-like organisation, does not support the individual expression of ideas and visions on personal websites of their employees and professors or intellectual leaders any more. I guess that those responsible for these kinds of decisions are not even aware of what this actually means on a meta-level and in the long run for an organisation, in which innovative ideas and scientific reflection are the core business. It is probably a typical unintended consequence of what the current spirit of the time (‘Zeitgeist’) prescribes as ‘normal’.
This is another step in a long-term development. For example, also the rather activist and oppositional newsletters of different bottom-up groups within academia and the university, we still remember of the seventies and eighties have almost all lost their main outlet. The Radboud University Newsletter Vox increasingly became a professional, glossy business magazine. It still has the pretension to be ‘independent’, but what does that imply today…?.
We also remember the University Bulletin boards where everyone could in a very democratic way leave notices. Take the following example of the University of Chicago (Photo by Dan Dry). They are also largely expelled from universities.
Another example is that we were used to hanging posters on the doors of our offices, of projects we were involved with, or conferences we visited. Now this is strictly forbidden. I also remember that when we were introducing our renowned and highly academic Alexander von Humboldt lectures, I personally used to distribute flyers on the upcoming programme and hung up posters at places where many students and members of the academic staff gathered. Have a look at this old example of one of these posters. That was not to be tolerated and sometimes these were silently cleared away within the hour by the concierge on behalf of some university administrator.
Of course, times change and new media and modes of communication emerge, like e.g. different social media, which might be more effective than these old modes, but not without reason, the social media appearance of our academic activities, ideas and reflection are also exclusively managed by the communication department of the university, which makes sure that the messages comply with official university policies.
Personal Websites, giving voice to each individual member of the university, were in the past hosted and supported by the university itself. Then the hosting was externalised while at the same time being stripped of any technical support. Now the university wants to get rid of them completely. The ruhosting server will be phased out.
Mind that today’s universities still boast that their professors are part of a ‘corps de esprit’, and still hold so-called ‘academic freedom’ and ‘open debate culture’ in high regard. But what ‘esprit’ and what ‘academic freedom’ and ‘open debate culture’ is actually being upheld here? Claiming this but not practising it is perhaps part of ‘normalising’ what should not actually be normal at a university.
A Foucauldian analysis of these slow but sure developments would probably be quite revealing even for those responsible for these kinds of decisions. To be very positive, I think the university administrators did not give it that much thought and the overall effect of these tendencies are indeed probably unintended. But of course, the university should be THE place to think and reflect… Free thinking academics will not wait for these decisions to be critically evaluated but rather immediately look for an alternative outlet. From now on, you therefore can find my personal website at a new location: https://hernste.nl/ where I will be happy to publish my latest ideas and reflections also in future. The site you are now looking at will be discontinued in future. We will keep thinking and debating…