The problem of too few women at the top has been high up on the agenda in the academic debate for 20 whole years, and this state of affairs has remained more or less unchanged for 20 years too. In the October 1998 edition (volume 1), former Minister of Education Jo Ritzen worked out that it would take another 51 years to achieve equal numbers of male and female academic staff. Only 5.8% of the professors at EUR were women in that year.
EM is 20 years old, and to celebrate that, EM will stop making paper magazines. Of course, we will continue online! In this context, editor Elmer Smaling browsed through twenty years, looking for stories that matured well or well, er.. less well.
Two years later, EM editor-inchief Ad Hofstede complained about ‘the glass ceiling being made of bullet-proof glass more than a metre thick’. And in 2005, EUR was second from the bottom out of all Dutch universities in the ‘GlassCeiling Index’. In 2007, EM talked about the ‘leaking pipeline’: the fact that women tend to drop out of the academic world after obtaining their PhD. But in that same year, one optimistic contributor said that everything would work out fine by itself, since female students get better results than male students; it was just a question of time. But haven’t we heard all this before?
During the 20 annual EM volumes,a lot of peculiar individuals visited the university. Some of these were frankly controversial. This was generally due to EFR, the student association at the Faculty of Economic Sciences (now ESE). In April 1998, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat gave a lecture in the Auditorium at the EFR’s invitation. EM described him as ‘an old man with watery eyes’. And right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn was present at the traditional EFR election debate just before the 2002 general elections. This was his first debate since that famous evening after the municipal elections, which turned into a head-on collision between Fortuyn and his arch-rival (or rather ‘doormat’), Ad Melkert of the left-wing PvdA. Melkert was at the Erasmus debate too and made a reasonable come-back, although Fortuyn was the one who stole the show. It was his last visit to EUR: he was assassinated two months later.
The ‘extremely controversial’ category includes a visit by Filip Dewinter, leader of the extremist ‘Vlaams Belang’ party in Belgium. He was invited by the Business Administration student association Sviib in 2005. This resulted in a ‘letter to the editor’ in EM, in which Social History lecturer Dienke Hondius referred to the debate as a ‘disgraceful exhibition’. Former Ulster terrorist David Hamilton visited Woudestein as well; the Navigators invited him to give a talk about his religious conversion in 2003.
Other people who have set foot in our Auditorium due to student associations include Irish politician Gerry Adams, German Chancellor Schröder, Israeli politicians Netanyahu and Peres, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, UN secretary- general Boutros-Ghali, and the new US Minister of the Interior Tillerson.
But individual people aren’t the only ones who cause controversy: a debate on the Armenian genocide held by Studium Generale in 2006 got completely out of hand. Just before the debate, SG tried to prevent a tumultuous evening by adding a Turkish historian to the panel as requested by Turkish organisations, but this didn’t make much difference. An eye-witness account in EM ran as follows: “Right after the debate, a group of Azeri and Grey Wolves unrolled flags while howling like wolves and shouting Turkish slogans. About 12 police officers had to be called in.”
And controversy doesn’t always come from outside either, as several EUR academics have caused it themselves. An example is the fraud case involving Dirk Smeesters in 2012. This young promising Belgian RSM scholar was caught fabricating research data (or at any rate ‘amassing’ it). After the university started investigating the matter, Smeesters ‘accidentally’ lost a large part of his rough data due to a computer crash and a move at RSM. Smeesters eventually handed in his resignation.
There was a second large-scale case involving scientific integrity that same year, this time at Erasmus MC, where endowed professor Don Poldermans was doing research into use of beta blockers. During this research, he himself filled in patient questionnaires, took blood samples from patients without their consent, reused certain data, and also used data from patients who weren’t part of his research. The research was stopped; Poldermans confessed and was sacked.
And then we have the Tariq Ramadan affair. This Swiss philosopher, Islamic thinker and Arabist joined EUR as guest professor in 2007, which immediately resulted in controversy. Some people regarded Ramadan, who also acted as advisor to Rotterdam Municipality, as someone who could get through to young Muslims, while others viewed him as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It eventually turned out that the second group were right.
EUR students passed on Ramadan’s comments on gay men to the Gay Krant magazine. It also turned out that Ramadan was presenting a TV programme for an Iranian broadcasting company in London, which was sufficient reason for Rotterdam Municipality to sack him in 2010. This dismissal made his position at EUR intolerable. But the university wasn’t careful enough when settling the matter, as one court ruled in 2012 that EUR had been too hasty in revoking Ramadan’s guest professorship. This affair resulted in a remarkable sequel after it emerged in 2017 that 6 women had accused Ramadan of sexual abuse, which took place before and after his professorship at EUR. During 20 years of EM, incidents involving student associations crop up just as persistently as the glass ceiling.
Two RSC students ended up in hospital in 1998 and 1999, the magazine’s second year. One of them had drunk himself comatose and the other one’s alcohol level was at least 5%. But both of them survived. “I must say, they do teach you how to drink at RSC,” EM’s editor-in-chief commented dryly. There was hardly any openness about the incident; ‘only one brief press release’ appeared in print. A year later, RSC was accused of excesses during initiation rites at camp in ’t Harde. Candidate members were prevented from sleeping and drinking, beaten with hockey sticks and baseball bats, and taunted with unflattering comments such as ‘Your mum and dad must have puked their guts up when you were born’. All these incidents together resulted in EUR’s withdrawing its recognition of RSC for a couple of years. RSC’s sister association Minerva in Leiden said this was an ‘extremely harsh punishment’.
One interminable issue that has finally come to an end is the merger between RSC and its female counterpart, RVSV, which was discussed as far back as 2001. But it didn’t happen, which is understandable what with all the male students’ excesses. Nonetheless, segregation of the sexes was unusual, as the only associations which had not yet ‘jumped on the merger bandwagon’ in 2001 were those in Utrecht and Rotterdam. The merger in Rotterdam eventually took another 16 years to accomplish.
The Van Tromp social club didn’t last that long. It was set up in 1983 as a protest against student associations being on such a large scale, but by the 1990s its members were ‘getting on a bit’. The end came in 2003, as most first-year students said they ‘thought the club had been disbanded’ during Eureka Week. Another student club relegated to the academic history museum was Gaudium, which was also set up in the 1980s as an alternative to the overcrowded student associations. The committee decided not to take on any more members in 2011 and the club was then sold.
In 2010, a clash occurred between student associations and the free press. EM published a ‘light-hearted’ article in the traditional Eureka Week issue about these associations’ practices which, the authors claimed, consisted of ‘pseudo-fascistic rules of conduct drilled into victims by sadomasochistic means’. These comments weren’t exactly appreciated by RSC and RVSV members, who claimed that the article was full of ‘perfidious lies’. Shortly after this, EM heard from various sources that large numbers of the otherwise attractively-designed Eureka Week issue had been dumped in refuse bins. The president of the Chamber of Associations referred to this coordinated disposal as ‘an equally light-hearted act’.
Oddly enough, the history of 20 years’ EM runs parallel to the emergence of the Internet. Right at the start, cyberspace resulted in articles that would make your jaw drop nowadays. For instance, the new professor of Electronic Marketing, Cor Molenaar, argued in 1999 that ‘most of these companies have no business on the Internet anyway’. He added: “Please take yourselves off here with all speed.” This sally was mainly aimed at companies posting their brochures online, but Molenaar was still able to envisage a golden future for companies on the Internet. He gave them an unusual piece of advice: “Take your time and have a good look round. You’ll see that porn sites are the most advanced ones, so maybe your company should examine the way they work.” It seems that not much has changed when it comes to surfing at the office. The ‘millennium bug’ also came in for a lot of attention in digital circles at the end of the 1990s. People were scared that the change in date on computers (from 1999 to 2000) would result in all kinds of disasters. EM got in a panic with the rest: “We’re in for power cuts, burst water pipes and plane crashes.” But all that actually happened on New Year’s Day 2000 was that two ticket machines broke down in Australia and an alarm went off at a nuclear power station in Japan.
Nowadays, ‘chatting’ is completely normal, but it used to be associated with unsavoury types. One editor was fairly correct in his forecast of ‘snap chatters’: “The word chatter always conjures up a mental picture of misanthropic teenagers sitting up till well after midnight and exchanging obscenities in secret languages.” But this meant IRC channels, ICQ and ThePalace.com back then (try googling them). The article also explains the first ‘emoticons’ to readers. People were still afraid of the ‘dark side’ of the ‘electronic superhighway’, while the first signs of a filter bubble became visible: “Most students don’t look any further than their search engine and differing opinions are hard to find.”
Another digital phenomenon that came on the scene during EM’s early years is the mobile phone, or the ‘mobile’, as EM called it in 1999. A lot of students already had one back then. But Ton Mulder, lecturer in macro-economics, wasn’t at all keen: “A man aged over 50 with a mobile telephone looks so totally pathetic,” he said. How right he was!
EM has made some blunders in its view of the ‘spirit of the times’. It announced a new social network in May 2007, especially for students, which (it said) was going to be BIG. No, this wasn’t ‘The facebook’ (the article was dropped later on); it was the Philox network. Other social media which were going to be equally big (according to EM in 2007) were Zorpia, Wayn, A Small World and (believe it or not!) LinkedIn. The year after that, EM jumped on yet another bandwagon which never made it after all: Second Life. “The only thing still missing is that you can’t feel or smell anything. But it does go a very long way in a visual sense,” says researcher Valerie Frissen, who has immersed herself in this world.
In 2009, Frissen commented once again in a special about social networks popular at the time. Twitter and Facebook came up, even though Facebook was a network ‘focusing mainly on students’, which was popular among international students in the Netherlands. There was a full-page item about Twitter where the phenomenon was explained. After this special, the emergence of the Internet rather faded into the background in EM because the novelty had worn off. This lasted till 2016 when the EUR website was hacked, which in turn resulted in a huge operation to increase security on the website and improve protection of personal data.
Since 2016, EM’s publications have gradually been cut back step by step to once every 3 weeks and then once a month. By contrast, the number of articles on the website is skyrocketing. This means that after Christmas 2017 (right around this time!) EM will be completely incorporated into the World Wide Web via erasmusmagazine.nl. At your service.