Lab for a free World

Diner Pensant 2024

It was a touching moment. Rob Mudde, Vice Rector of TU Delft, addressed his students at our Lab for a Free World, our annual symposium for student leaders. Mudde expressed his concerns about polarization in society and at the university. He concluded his speech with the New Testament parable where an adulterous woman is brought to Jesus, and Jesus challenges those around her to stone her according to the Law of Moses, but only if they are without sin themselves. His message was clear: ladies and gentlemen, students, for heaven’s sake, be humble and kind to each other, seek collaboration, and restrain your judgment of others.

The next day, we learned through the media that Mudde would prematurely resign his position due to health reasons. We wish him all the best in the hope that he can joyfully complete his work as a professor until his retirement.

Polarization is always lurking, especially now that TU is under the media’s scrutiny. Even among the student population, polarization is never far away. While distinguishing oneself from others is part of human nature, and necessary for forming one’s own identity, some rivalry is harmless and has always been present.

Thus, it was heartening to see that most boards of study and student associations had sent delegates to our dinner. There was dialogue and encounters between very different people from diverse currents. The topic of conversation among students and other attendees from the Delft community was academic freedom. 

What is it? 

What does it mean for you as a student if you are accumulating a massive student debt, can’t find housing, feel the need to also participate in committees, and perhaps take a gap year in governance to be well-prepared for the future job market?

Philosopher Maarten Coolen from Amsterdam expressed his concerns at the dinner. He talked about how students view their education as a project, setting exceedingly high standards for themselves and prepping in every way for their future careers. Rob Mudde wholeheartedly echoed this concern; “Go with the flow,” he said, study with passion and dedication, but don’t lose yourself in the belief that you can completely control and plan your future.

Whether all students agreed with this, I do not know. These were paternal words spoken by Mudde and Coolen. It is up to the sons and daughters to make something of them. But their words did resonate, and that is good. Because studying is a privilege; it is beautiful, cool, formative, fascinating, and enriching. But may it never be a period that leads to burnout or distorts you, but rather a time when love for the field and fellow human beings, for yourself and others, go hand in hand—that is my hope.

David Schiethart MoTiv TU Delft foto door Joram Boumans

David Schiethart

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