"We all feel the urgency of the climate crisis"

On Monday 20 March, 45 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 much attention for differing viewpoints. A second meeting – which will build upon the insights from 20 March - is scheduled for 15 May.

After a brief introduction by Rector Magnificus Henk Kummeling - who joined the discussion together with Anton Pijpers, President of the Executive Board - moderator Yonathan Keren gave an introduction to deep democracy. This method focuses on values and (conscious and unconscious) beliefs. The goal is not to convince others of your own arguments, but to really listen to each other. This makes it a useful tool for resolving conflicts, and getting all perspectives on the table.

Conversation on feet

In a "conversation on feet”, participants briefly gave a reaction to the statement "Should we collaborate with the fossil industry?" and then chose a position in the room. Those who agreed with that person stood close to them, and those who did not agree chose a position further away in the room.

Sentiments that were widely shared were about not wanting to contribute to greenwashing, a lack of trust in the fossil industry because they have withheld information in the past and invest relatively little in innovation. But also about maintaining collaborations in order to stay connected, leverage the scale of these companies, and motivate them to do better: because we really need everything and everyone to achieve the transition. A detailed report of the session can be read here: Report Deep Democracy session 20 March (download PDF), and/or listen to the audio summary of the session (in Dutch).

It was clear that all participants shared a sense of urgency, and the view that we must move toward a sustainable future in which we are no longer dependent on oil. But opinions differed on how best to achieve those goals. There was much consensus on the importance of transparency about collaborations, and clear frameworks for collaborations that include ethical or moral aspects.

During the session, a protest was held at the entrance by student members of End Fossil: Occupy! Two of these activists were invited to join the conversation and accepted this invitation.

Working towards 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. Together, we want to work towards a set of findings that the Executive Board and the Employee and student representation will take into account in future decision-making and frameworks for collaborations. The goal is to have a draft decision by the summer of 2023.