Diversity: Minister tries to quell criticism

Despite all objections, government and universities continue to promote “diversity and inclusion” in science. As calmly as possible, the outgoing minister van Engelshofen explains it to the Sejm.

When it comes to diversity in science, some politicians stand on their back legs. You should judge researchers by their traits, they think, not by their origin or gender.

So on the subject, outgoing Minister Van Engelshofen often crosses swords with the lower house. “It still amazes me now and then how much resistance the pursuit of diversity elicits in this community,” she sighed last year after being accused of “nurturing racism” and staring blindly at rolls.


Just before the summer, I sent a letter about the progress of the national “action plan” in this area, along with the “guidelines” for gender policy, which universities should use when applying for European scholarships. The flame caught on immediately, especially after telegraph wrote about it. Representatives asked a series of written questions. They wanted to hear it again: What’s the point of all this?

The red line in her answers: Thanks to the politics of diversity, researchers appear who will have the least chance, despite their traits. This is good for science, and therefore for the Netherlands.

Thanks to the diversity policy, researchers appear who will have less chance, despite their traits

“Betting on diversity does not mean recruiting people because of the characteristics of identity”, sum them up, “But those characteristics no longer hinder their appointment.”

Alarm bells

And the emphasis on “intersectionality” that rings alarm bells in some political groups? It just means you shouldn’t focus on one aspect, she says. There are “overlapping forms of inequality”. For example, you can address the disadvantages of women in science, but women of color have different problems than women with disabilities and you have to take that into account.

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Earlier, a majority of the House of Representatives attempted to torpedo Van Engelshoven’s plans or at least get rid of the sharp edges. This only works halfway, because the minister isn’t about that actually. Universities and research institutes follow their own policy and therefore make their own choices in the field of diversity. The minister writes that they are all striving to change the culture.

“Betting on diversity does not mean that people are appointed because of characteristics of identity, but that these characteristics no longer hinder their assignment.”


However, the tension between diversity, neutrality, and specificity also appears in her answers at times. Because how much data can you keep, and how much can it play a role in ratings? It is not without reason that university faculty members resist the “diversity scale”.

Indeed, it is difficult to explain the impact of diversity politics without recording certain personality characteristics, Van Engelshofen acknowledges when asked by your religion. But the majority of members of the House of Representatives do not support this, which is why I “apply a meticulous process”: it is waiting for more advice, for example, from the Rathenau Institute.


But what about the parents’ education level, the CDA wanted to know. After all, all kinds of research shows that parents’ education often has a huge impact on their children’s school performance. If universities are committed to diversity, why not ask their students about it?

This would conflict with privacy legislation, that’s the minister’s answer in a nutshell. Moreover, it would be stigmatizing: “Whether tutoring is needed or not, does not depend on the educational level of the parents.”

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Soon there will be a new government, with the same parties still at the helm. They are deeply divided in this area, and a new coalition agreement probably won’t put an end to it. The discussion will undoubtedly continue.

Read also: “Higher Education Awaits a Strong Debate on Racism”. This article was previously published in the Education Journal. All members receive the magazine by mail each month. Become a member!

Megan Vasquez

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