Swimming Lessons

| Niels ter Meer

With ‘Piranha gate’ slowly drawing to a close, student columnist Niels ter Meer (23) looks back and wonders whether law is that hard or whether everyone just needs some metaphorical swimming lessons.


A while ago, I received an email from Piranha about a financial GA. I kind of ignored it. Financial GA’s are boring and I had better things to do – or so I thought. A bit later, U-Today wrote about the alleged (wire) fraud at Piranha by the former treasurer. Drama on the grapevine/tamtam!

What I found was an inexplicable game of hot potato being played with the criminal complaint. The board was looking at their members, and the members were looking straight back. In an attempt to get a reaction out of them, U-Today’s editors – not mincing their words – compared the bumbling student swimming association to a ‘playground’ and called them to action.

I call it an inexplicable game of hot potato, because nowhere does the law say that only the board is entitled to file a complaint. In fact, it says the opposite: everyone with knowledge of a committed crime is entitled to file one! Every pissed off member, anyone who read the letter, or probably even anyone who read the reporting on it can do it. One judge didn’t mince words either, and basically wrote in an opinion piece that filing criminal charges is a civic duty. ‘Show your teeth and take your responsibility’ has a point.

This ignorance and aversion of the law isn’t just beholden to Piranha. Other associations have the same problem. Being a board member is about more than organizing parties and activities. You’re now legally responsible for a legal person, which some people don’t seem to realize. You have to do the boring stuff too. For example, some time after the GDPR went into effect, I spoke to some board member about the privacy law and what my study association was doing. They told me something along the lines of that they thought they couldn’t be expected to follow all laws, because there are so many and they are so complicated. You can probably imagine what my face looked like after that comment.

Personally I am just a huge nerd, and I get that almost none of you do this for fun in your spare time. But these things aren’t hard. All our laws are online, and with some exceptions they are surprisingly readable. It might not be fun, but you don’t need to be a lawyer to figure everything out before you – for example, completely hypothetically – implement wholly unlawful privacy policies, take money belonging to someone else entrusted to you for your own purposes, or write letters riddled with errors to one’s members. Just do it correctly the first time.

Law isn’t necessarily hard or scary. You just need to dip your toes into it and take your time to understand it. Putting your teeth into it can even feel empowering, like people around me have sometimes discovered. So instead of talking about a playground, a more apt metaphor would be a pool.

Some of us could use some swimming lessons in legalese.

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