Social safety quickly becomes an unsafe theme

The apologies came after a few days. Marcel Levi, chairman of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), expressed regret on Thursday about an episode of his column in The parole which he was excited about misuse of the concept of social security. According to Levi, this is used to complain by “everyone who does not get his way”. Levi only mentioned the Arib issue in The Hague, but drew his diagnosis much broader.

The column aroused anger, including from the National Network of Women Professors. Not surprising since Levi is the boss of an agency that distributes prestigious scholarships. Philosopher and columnist Fleur Jongepier wrote that she was happy with Levi’s candor, because it shows what goes on behind the scenes.

Concept inflation

At the University of Amsterdam, too, a transverse opinion about social safety led to commotion. In the university magazine Folia professor of communication sciences Bas van den Putte opposed the inflation that he believes the concept of social safety has undergone at the university.

Van den Putte quoted from an instruction that he had learned for his lectures: “The experience of insecurity by the person is the starting point, so not just a situation or behavior that is objectively perceived as transgressive by everyone.”

That starting point, the primacy of the victim, has also been used since #MeToo for sexually transgressive behavior and for some time with racist insults: the experience of the victim, the receiver, comes first and can outweigh the intentions of the sender (‘I didn’t mean it that way.”

That criterion poses problems for him, the professor writes Folia. Students don’t appreciate it, is his experience, to receive unexpected questions about the course material or comments from other students. “They indicate that this makes them stressed in class.”

The evil outside world

He wonders ironically how he should deal with that. “Should I only allow those students to participate who ask to speak? Or give each student a small card with green and red sides, with which they can indicate whether or not they want to participate?” He points out that stress is not necessarily bad, and a good preparation for “the evil outside world”.

Are students tender-hearted snowflakes or is an authoritarian teacher getting hit and miss here? Teaching style plays a role. Van den Putte calls himself “the type of teacher” who “continuously asks questions to random students and – to be fair – preferably those students who don’t seem to pay much attention”.

Van den Putte, now: “That may be an old-fashioned way of teaching, but I think it’s a good one. It prepares students for real life. I now think that expectation management is very important: students need to know what to expect in a lecture, in this case that they have to participate. And of course there are really unsafe situations, but not everything that is experienced as such is.

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