Second deep democracy session

Illustratie werelbol met hand

On Monday 15 May, forty university students and staff talked to each other about collaborations with the fossil industry. Should the university take part in such collaborations, and if so, under what conditions? To structure the conversation, deep democracy was used: a dialogue method with attention for the values and beliefs of others.

The deep democracy method helps to create a safe environment where people with very different views can engage in a constructive dialogue. The goal is not to convince others of your own views, but to really listen to one another. By doing this, we harness the brainpower of the entire UU community and gather as many perspectives on this topic as possible.

Conversation on feet

In a ‘conversation on feet’, participants took turns giving their responses to the question "What do we think about collaborations with the fossil industry?" and then chose a position in the room. Those who agreed with that person stood close to them. Those who did not agree chose a position further away in the room.

It quickly became clear that all participants shared a strong sense of urgency. But they disagreed on the steps that need to be taken to accelerate the energy transition and reduce negative impacts. There was consensus, however, on the idea that a decision we make now does not have to last forever and can be revised over time.

University as agent of change

People shared their concerns about the future, their (working) experiences at or with fossil-based companies, their passion for research and how it can help us with solutions to the issues we face. From pragmatic solutions to ethical dilemmas: everything was on the table. There was also much talk about the university as an ‘agent of change’, and the symbolic value and of cutting ties with the fossil industry.

In the closing remarks, participants shared their experiences and discussed which arguments (unexpectedly) impacted them. Various sentiments were shared, such as "I feel like we are on the same page regarding wanting to phase out fossil fuels", "I'm frustrated with the distinction that is made between pragmatists and idealists, I can be both!", and "I'm so happy to see that so many people are thinking about this, because I’m not sure myself.”

A detailed report of the session can be read here: Report Deep Democracy session 15 May (PDF).


Among the forty participants were students and staff - both researchers and support staff - from various faculties and the University Corporate Offices. Student members of the University Council participated, as well as a number of students affiliated with End Fossil Occupy Utrecht. They occupied an area in the Minnaert building between May 8-10 and called on the university to cut ties with the fossil industry. From the Executive Board, Rector Magnificus Henk Kummeling, Vice President Margot van der Starre and Student Assessor Anneloes Krul participated.

Working toward consideration frameworks

The aim of these meetings is to gather ideas and intentions from different (academic) disciplines within Utrecht University. From the views of students and staff who are totally against cooperation, to those of researchers currently working with the fossil industry.

Based on these perspectives, we are working towards a framework for assessing collaborations. The goal is to have a draft decision on this framework by August 1. Subsequently, the Executive Board and the Employee and student representation – who participate in the policy-making process on behalf of all students and employees - will take this framework into account in policy and decision making.

More information

Read the report of the deep democracy session on 20 March 2023