When during storm Eunice the entire university had to close, some people actually went to the UvA instead of fleeing the campus: the security team. Not only do they protect the students and teachers when on campus, but they also protect the campus when the students and teachers aren’t there.
In order to find out the ins and outs of UvA security, I met up with manager Kenneth Nijman at the desk of Roeterseiland E on a Tuesday afternoon. He’s surrounded by a few colleagues: one looking at computer monitors, another keeping an eye on the hallway, and a third getting milk from a refrigerator. I ask them if this room has a name, and one of them answers with a big smile: ‘Willeke’s Domain’. An ash-blonde woman sitting behind a computer turns around in her chair and laughs out loud.
Kenneth and two others escort me to a separate room. There, I ask them about their typical workday, special memories, and what is peculiar about securing the UvA. Kenneth is quick to highlight one part of the job: ‘Listen, I can sleep safely at night when I know that these two
gentlemen are working with me.’’ The gentlemen in question – Ton and Martijn – start laughing and feel flattered, and Ton jokingly yells ‘bromance!’ But what is painstakingly obvious between Willeke’s Domain and this little bromance is the sense of amicability, warmth, and collegiality that unites the team.
Such amicability may seem trivial, but it is essential for a job where other people’s safety depends on the employees’ willingness to go the extra mile: to stay longer impromptu on special occasions, to travel through the storm to safeguard buildings. Sure, they admit that those are not typical, everyday tasks. Those include opening and closing the sites, looking for leakages, intruders, or open windows in the night, and – not completely unimportant – being the face for the UvA at the entrance of buildings. However, Ton explains that disruptive incidents can make such tasks difficult: ‘You can never be on autopilot, because unexpected things happen frequently. You need to respond, and fast.’ Sometimes that even includes being called out of bed in the middle of the night.
Luckily, all three men are more than willing to do so. ‘Everything that hurts my employees, hurts
myself,’ adds Kenneth. That is striking given that the employees that work for him aren’t officially UvA employees, but rather work for a security company named ProfiSec – hence the silver V-shaped badges. However, Ton explains that there is something special about working for the UvA: ‘I don’t know the exact numbers, but I think that more than 90% of all the security colleagues stay longer at the UvA compared to other organizations. There is a very strong bond with this place, and its
Their work dedication sadly but understandably also swings both ways, since they are unable – for
security reasons – to give concrete information about, for example, the location of the central security office or the security protocol for Dutch Princess Amalia. After an hour, they escort me to Willeke’s Domain again, and I ask them if they have protected any famous persons recently. At that moment a woman in a navy blue pantsuit walks in front of us, and Ton replies: ‘You see her? That’s the current director of Europol.’ I start laughing, since it seems humorous. He gives me a dead-pan look, and continues: ‘No I mean it – that’s her. That’s part of the job, you see?’
Apparently an event with Catherine de Bolle – the first female Europol director – is about to start, and Ton invites me to join. Right before it starts he recounts some famous events here, including when controversial public thinker Jordan Peterson paid a visit and they had to manage 500 vocal students – and a lot of people who couldn’t enter, since an enormous 1500 students registered for the event. Luckily, it ended well. Ton points to the corners of the area and the balconies on the second floor: ‘You see those spots? We had a man on every corner.’
As De Bolle arrives, they leave me to watch the event and I sit down on a poof. As she sits down on the podium, I look at the photographs behind her of Christine Lagarde, Yanis Varoufakis, and Jeroen Dijsselbloem. In the corner of the room, I spot a lone guard watching the room, feet spread apart, silver V-badge breasted, and arms behind his back. One student asks De Boll what is it like to be the real life M from James Bond. She replies: ‘I always wanted to be a police officer.’ The guard smiles discretely.