The future of NFK (Nieuwe Filosofische Kring) seemed to be uncertain this year. After both the praeses and vice-praeses had stepped down, a new student movement challenged the problematic representation of international students within NFK. The Philosophers’ Collective (TPC) appeared to emerge as a successor to NFK. In the end election team Eudaimonia put forward a traditional praesidium for NFK, albeit with a changed structure.
On May 8 TPC posted a message on its Facebook page that it would not be running in the elections for the new praesidium of NFK. According to Jack Goldingham Newsom, founder of TPC, it became clear that it would not be possible to cooperate with Eudaimonia to bring together a group of local and international students to represent the students at the Institute of Philosophy.
Rik Ouwerkerk, praeses-elect for NFK, claims that the negotiations with TPC foundered on the issue of the presidency of this praesidium composed of international and local students. He did not consider a double presidency, in which Goldingham Newsom and a Dutch-speaking student would share the responsibilities among them, to be a viable system. Goldingham Newsom talks of mutual misunderstanding in this regard: 'I think we don’t understand each other in terms of the cultural background that we come from and the kind of expectations that we have towards a student association and what the praesidium should do.'
‘If we did run in the election we would just be creating a further divide between Belgian and international students’
Running in the elections as a separate election team was not in accordance with the vision of TPC either: 'If we did run in the election we would have internationals voting for us and NFK would get Belgian students voting for them and we are just creating a further divide.' On the contrary, the aim of TPC was to bridge the gap between both student populations.
Meanwhile, a traditional election team has been elected for NFK, without any structural cooperation with TPC. Also notable is the fact that there is only one international student in the upcoming praesidium. Goldingham Newsom claims that Eudaimonia has not made enough efforts to attract international students. Ouwerkerk, on the contrary, states that he has been to several classes of the international programme to inform people of the new election team. He also organised an info session for interested international students, but according to him, nobody showed up.
Goldingham Newsom, meanwhile, remains critical with regards to NFK. On their Facebook page, TPC did not exactly invite their followers to vote for Eudaimonia: 'We want to remind you that you can still vote. You have a choice of either YES or NO to this kind of election team, and your vote will determine the future of the praesidium here.' Some Dutch-speaking students, among which Ouwerkerk, understood this as a call to vote against Eudaimonia. Consequently, the election results of Eudaimonia were considerably lower than previous years, with an average of 60% votes for the election team, compared to 90% last year. Furthermore, a bigger percentage of students at the Insitute have voted than last year; 20% versus 14%. Goldingham Newsom himself was more diplomatic: 'Personally I can’t yet say that I will support NFK but if they do next year show that they are doing something about the problem, then okay.'
‘We are definitely going to try not to alienate the international students from NFK, which of course was the case now’
Hope for the future?
Despite there not being a cooperation between Eudaimonia and TPC, NFK is drawing lessons from the criticism of the international students. Firstly, the function ‘International’ in the praesidium was abolished. The justification for this is that such a function would imply that there are separate, segregated activities for international students. In light of this year, however, NFK wants to stop dividing students into categories. Instead, the function ‘Social’ will commit to organising more accessible activities at the Institute of Philosophy and ensuring that there is more interaction between students.
Ouwerkerk emphasises that NFK will mostly put an effort in preventing the current gap between Dutch-speaking and international students from forming at all: 'We are definitely going to try not to alienate the international students from NFK, as was of course the case now. At the start of the year there is usually still an attitude of ‘we are one community’, especially during the welcoming weekend for first-years. We must try not to lose that first, positive energy.'
Besides that, there are also major changes in the structure of the praesidium. Instead of a praeses and a vice-praeses, there will be a group of function coordinators. The other members of the praesidium will no longer be required to attend every PV (praesidiumvergadering; praesidium meeting, red.). This should ensure an improved spread of the workload and responsibility and thus reduce the fragility of the praesidium. That might have been an important factor in the dropout of several members of the praesidium this year. Furthermore, NFK will make use of a system of loose workgroups that will also be accessible to people outside the praesidium. Such a reformed structure was a major part of the programme of TPC. With such measures, NFK hopes to change the image of NFK as a ‘closed group’ – one of the reproaches that TPC made. With this workgroup structure, NFK also hopes to attract more engagement of international students.
In conclusion, the divide between local and international students does not seem to have fully been bridged yet. However, Goldingham Newsom does see some progress: 'There are a lot more engaged international students than there were before. There is change and it has happened, perhaps not in the way that we saw it but things are moving and we have to just keep that going.' Ouwerkerk is also optimistic: 'I have good hope for the future. It might not be ideal yet next year, but I think that if we can bring a positive change in the praesidium and go through some developments, that we’re already getting somewhere.'