True open dialogue requires more transparency

The request for more transparency regarding collaborations between KU Leuven and Israeli partners is unrelated to anyone's opinion on protests or calls for boycotts. It's a necessary condition for the open dialogue KU Leuven rector Luc Sels is advocating for.

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Criticism of KU Leuven's cooperation with Israeli universities continues to cause controversy. For two weeks now, several students have been holding sit-ins at the rectorate. The intense debate in the United States is spreading here too. 

In Ghent, students proceeded to occupy university buildings. KU Leuven, VUB and UAntwerpen students will join the occupation on their respective campuses from Monday 13 May onwards.

 In an email sent last week, rector Luc Sels urged students and staff to maintain an open dialogue and to be cautious about entering into new partnerships with Israeli universities.

The university states that it denounces any form of dehumanization and violence. It also acknowledges indications of serious human rights violations by the Israeli military and the current Israeli government, which have been proven to have a far-reaching influence on Israeli universities. 

An academic community advocating for a moral cause and demanding that the university reflects on it is simply an example of vibrant university democracy.

However, the university has decided not to terminate existing collaborations with Israeli universities and to keep the door open for future collaborations. According to KU Leuven, Israeli universities cannot be judged solely by the actions of their government.

On the contrary, Sels previously said he did not want to take a position himself because our university is also 'not a political institution'. That is only partially true.

 Our university community operates within a political context and is built on certain values, of which human rights are the keystone. It must adjust its course when concerns arise from within the community about its social standing. A university that does not recognize that social context, is delusional.

 Sels' e-mail is a step in the right direction. However, a truly open dialogue requires more discussion material. Critics rightly claim that KU Leuven is failing in this area: many are unfamiliar with the methods of the special ethics committee responsible for reviewing international collaborations.

Why not publish the arguments of the ethics committee?

We do not doubt the members of the committee and the thoroughness of their work. We believe that they are doing their job with precision and seriousness. Nevertheless, more transparency is needed. So why not publish a report detailing the committee’s reasoning? This isn't a reckless demand for protest, it's a prerequisite for an open dialogue.

The request for more transparency is unrelated to anyone's opinion on protests or calls for boycotts. We have different opinions on whether such actions should be taken. But we highly encourage discussions in the ivory tower.

An academic community advocating for a moral, ethical cause that demands the university to reflect on it is simply an example of vibrant university democracy. A true open dialogue requires more transparency. 

 Kasper Nollet is Editor-in-Chief. Femke Beutels is responsible for Final Editing. This editorial is supported by the entire editorial team.

This article has been updated in light of recent events and slightly deviates from the original Dutch version.

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