Science - April 7, 2005

Foundation Day celebration in Dutch?

Having had two Foundation Day celebrations in English, rector Professor Bert Speelman wants next year’s celebration to be held in Dutch again. After doing a quick count of the handful of foreign students present at the celebration in the university Aula, he sees no reason not to hold his ‘farewell celebration’ in Dutch. Speelman is approaching 65, and will retire next year. What do students think about this?

Anne Meeuwsen, fifth year student of International Development:
‘I think it’s really stupid. Supposedly Wageningen University wants to show that it is international. This is a university celebration, and everyone should be able to follow it, so why not do it in English? Surely everyone can understand English? I assume that if you are admitted to a university you surely have a reasonable level of English.’

Sarah Yun Tang, representative of VeSte on the student council:
‘I totally disagree with his idea. It is the university’s birthday and at this university we have many international students and staff members. The fact there were only few international students is because the event was hardly given any publicity and because most of the courses didn’t stop. A lot of students did not know about it or felt they couldn’t skip class. It is because I am in the student council that I now know what ‘dies’ means [the Foundation Day is referred to in Latin, Dies Natalis, Ed.] and had been informed about when it would be held. Also, it is not just his farewell party, it is still the university’s birthday!’

VeSte Party member Maartje Hogenboom adds:
‘It is not clear why he wants it this way. He asked international students to raise their hands, but not the international staff members, or Dutch students for that matter. There also were very few Dutch students present. And when you present an award to an African alumnus, you cannot just speak in Dutch.’

Yared Assefer, MSc student of Soil Science:
'I didn't know about that event. But if it is the university's birthday, that is not good. The birthday of the university means the birthday of all students. If it is held in Dutch and you cannot read or understand Dutch, the connotation is that the celebration is not meant for you. There are many international students here, from a lot of different countries. You cannot ignore them, they are also students of this university.’

Jasmine Osorio, representative of PSF on the student council:
‘Speelman's closing remark was embarrassing, more for the university than the foreign students he singled out. Not only was it offensive to international students, but probably also to the numerous foreign guests in attendance, and especially the Ethiopian alumnus who had just walked off the same stage with an Outstanding Alumnus Award! An internationally oriented institution should avoid such careless comments. We were very disappointed with the remarks. That is why we asked the rector for clarification during our meeting with him; upon which he said he wants his part of the dies celebrations to be in Dutch. So let his "farewell" be in Dutch; that part's supposed to be in Latin anyway.’

Jasper Harms

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