Kees van Rooyen has mixed emotions. After having devoted nearly eight years of his career to being the third member on the university’s Executive Board, he is leaving ‘his’ EUR. He prefers not think of it.

Text: Wieneke Gunneweg Photogaphy: Levien Willemse

What has your mood been like these past weeks?

“I try not to think about leaving so soon. I act as if everything is normal and participate in performance interviews and budget meetings. If I wouldn’t do that, I’d get this feeling one has before going on a holiday. Stress about work that should still be finished. I want to prevent myself from getting that feeling. The stress homing in.”

You are the best-known member of the board, especially also among students. Not a role a third member often has elsewhere.

“I am the only member on the board who also studied here. I feel a strong link between myself and student life here in Rotterdam. For that reason I have drawn it to me. I am younger, have the idea that I am relatively close to their world, which maybe a misinterpretation… [laughs]. One should avoid being smart, sitting behind a desk in one’s office. I wanted to enjoy everything the university has to offer. And as the board, we think it is important to facilitate the student associations.”

Why did you become a member of the Rotterdamsch Studenten Corps yourself?

“I like having a good time. And very deep down I love people.”

Why deep down?

“Sometimes I also need peace and quiet. Simply to be not concerned with anything when you sit down on the couch at night. But I love people, love to talk with people and get them together. That warm energy. Being on your own for too long will only make you think and ponder too much and you become depressive.”

Is there a depressed side in you?

“If there is no excitement and tension for too long, I start pondering. The things that could happen to my wife and children, like accidents and illnesses; all things that make life unpleasant. The best remedy is to be busy.”

Shouldn’t these negative thoughts be released somehow?

“No. The ostrich attitude works fine. They are no fears of real things. One suffers the most from fearing the suffering that never comes.”

Have you always excelled in that social side of working?

“It suits me. I have a talent for it, but I also developed myself in this area.”

Kees van Rooijen on the little bench which he bought during the auction organised on the first Erasmus Alumni Day in November 2008. “I overbid when the other bids failed to come in and the expression on the maker’s face became sadder and sadder. I felt so sorry.”

You like being a busy man, those four months of sabbatical from January until May is bound to be a tormenting experience?

“I am going to do things and not sit on the couch. I am 45 years old and will have to work until my 67th, or perhaps longer. That means I am halfway through my working career. Time to recharge myself and develop further. I am googling different business schools checking interesting study programmes and I will be going to England for a few weeks to improve my English.”

Will there be time left to do nothing?

“Not very much. Doing nothing gets boring very quickly. Everyone has left the house. My wife works and my children are to school and then there you are. I don’t read much either.”

What would you not miss about work?

“Very little. Virtually nothing was annoying in those eight years. You know, we all have to do kitchen duty as well so to speak; some processes take forever. The best example is student accommodation on the campus. It took so many years to mould and discuss everything with everyone involved, like the city of Rotterdam, the city borough and our neighbours first and foremost. It takes years. I am glad that the first 109 students moved into the F-building before my departure here.”

At receptions you were known as the man with one or two beers in his hand. Has anyone ever made a comment about that?


Biggest mistake?

“Oi, I should have one, shouldn’t I? [silence]. Probably that the reorganisation of the bureau of the university took very long and wasn’t executed in the best possible way. It was due to tensions among the members of the Executive Board.”

What was that period like?

“Difficult to recall a few years onwards. A person tends to remember only the good things. It left me a long time ago. If one has returned from a holiday the rainy days are also easily forgotten.”

Depending on for how long it rained.

“True, and it rained quite heavily and for quite some time. A year after the new vice-chancellor had arrived, Steven Lamberts, it appeared things did not work well between him and chairwoman José van Eijndhoven. Their differences over how to run a university contrasted too strongly.”

What was your position in that situation?

“Very awkward. Just like arguing parents with the children having to choose between the one or the other. I was trying to be the agent that would solve the differences for as long as I could. This is my natural role. Eventually it came as a relief when the chairwoman left and the conflict was over.”

Who taught you the most?

“Steven Lamberts. We have had fun together, but we have also worked together very productively. We supplement each other. He is the intellectual who, to a lesser extent than I would, allows matters to simmer. I am not always tough enough in ending disputes.”

How does that show?

“With people who do not function the way they should. I will stand by people for a long time, relieve them of responsibilities they do not handle very well. Lamberts will say in such cases: ‘It isn’t enough; I don’t see a chance of improvement in the future, so this person will have to go.’”

Does this shock you?

“It is clear language. In hindsight I could always see it was the right decision. I really learned from that. I have become more like this too now. You invest time and energy in someone and if there is no potential for improvement you must draw a line.”

How do you feel while cycling home then?

“These are by far the least attractive things to do. After all, it is a human being with a family or a life, which I have made miserable.”

Do you try to make up for it?

“I will explain on different occasions what has made me take the decision. I don’t want to be the big boss who assigns others to do the dirty work so he can sleep peacefully himself.”

Have you ever indulged in management literature?

“I have learned everything on the job.”

‘One should avoid being smart behind a desk in one’s office. I wanted to enjoy everything the university has to offer’

You are not a fanatic reader, you said.

“As far as my job is concerned I read everything. But I have the unpleasant habit of falling asleep whenever I read a book. Not just in bed but also on the couch. Reading those same two pages over and over, it doesn’t encourage me. I’d rather go cycling or doing sports.”

What will the new job be?

“I don’t know. I haven’t actively sought for anything because I have opted for the unique chance of taking a sabbatical. However, it will not be a position in the executive board of a university or a hospital. That I have already done. I want to make another step sideways.”

The business world?

“I would prefer an organisation at the crossroads of the public and private sectors. Public because the job must have some social relevance, but preferably in a free-market environment with competition.”

Which are your best qualities?

“Dealing with people, public appearances. I am good with numbers too and see things quickly. Also, I like looking to the future and develop policies.”

And some poor ones?

[After a long silence] “I tend to support people for too long, which is not a good thing, but I have been improving slowly. Working on certain cases or with certain people for too long and expecting to hammer out a breakthrough. That is where I have gotten a more business-like mentality.”

Biggest virtue?

“It is nicer to have others mention that. Most people will find I am a pleasant a person.”

Biggest vice?

“I have no idea of what that could be.”

What does your wife say?

“I can be very pleased with myself. Conceited. My wife will then say: ‘Time to touch down again’. Time to step out of that helicopter and get both feet firmly on the ground again. Which does not help instantly, but I can deal with it, and I am aware of it” [laughs].

What would scare you?

“The idea that I would never find as fun a job as this one. I am not going to look for any random job either, or accept one. It’ll have to be another super job like this one. But well, one can be this lucky once, but twice…?”

What is happiness?

“…Happiness is… Yes, this is it I believe: Happiness is contact with and associating with other people. This makes me very happy.”

Kees van Rooijen parts with the EUR community on 17 December together with the rector magnificus and vice chairman Steven Lamberts, who is also leaving the EUR. There will be an informal reception of which the (relatively) formal part will be from 17:00 – 17:30, existing of ‘woorden én daden’, (words and deeds, a reference to the Feyenoord football club song). EUR employees and students are more than welcome from 16:00 in the main hall in the C-building (Collegezalenhal). More informatio