Who is Rutger Engels, and where is he from?
“I’m 49 years old, and in the last four years I have served as the Chairman to the Trimbos Institute’s Board of Directors and as a Distinguished Professor at Utrecht University. Prior to that I worked at the universities of Nijmegen, Utrecht, Maastricht and Groningen, spending most of my time in Nijmegen.
“I was born in Velp and have lived in many places. When I was an adolescent, I lived in Drenthe – in Emmen, to be exact. So if you’re asking me where I’m from, I’m going to say that that was the place that shaped my identity. I’m open and straightforward, two traits I picked up there.
“My mother was a social worker and my father held a technical position at Akzo. I myself now live in Zeist with my partner and family.”
Are you familiar with Rotterdam, and will you be moving here?
“Of course I’m familiar with the city. I’m considering living in Rotterdam for at least some of the time. I want to spend a lot of time there. It’s too soon to tell whether I will actually really live there at some point. Ask me that again in half a year’s time.”
You are Erasmus University’s first ever rector magnificus in its nearly 105-year history who was not recruited from within the university itself. You are unique in that regard. How does that make you feel?
“I saw this was the case for the university’s recent history, but I did not take it into account when I applied for the job. I thought it would be a lot of fun and a great honour to hold a position at this eminent, highly ranked international university, and that’s the attitude with which I walked into the interviews.”
‘Ik weet dat de verwachtingen hooggespannen zijn als het gaat om diversiteit’
There were quite a few people who would have liked to see a woman appointed to the position. Particularly considering the shortage of female professors at this university.
“I read that. We also discussed that subject at length. I know the university has high expectations with regard to diversity. And of course I have considered my approach, but I’d like to discuss the matter with the university’s academic community before publicising my own ideas on the subject. But it’s very clear to me that this is a big deal here.”
Are there any other subjects you particularly wish to devote yourself to?
“What I really like about Erasmus University is the combination of pure research and applied research, and how this relates to social impact and commercial knowledge transfer. I’m looking forward to collaborating with partners, civil society and the business community.
“I should mention the Erasmus Initiatives too – another thing I really liked about Erasmus University. The Initiatives are about having representatives of various disciplines in teaching and research analyse major global issues. These issues are not discipline-specific, but require a multi-disciplinary approach. It’s a good thing that Erasmus University presents itself that way to the outside world – it means the university has a clear profile to students and researchers. I’m also very enthusiastic about the Challenge Accepted campaign, in which alumni and others are involved in the university. I’m looking forward to starting in my new job.”
You are used to taking a multi-disciplinary approach to your research. What is your method?
“In my experience, science and teaching must always be a team effort. Of course, I have yet to find out whether what I used to do will work here too. But what is definitely important in working with multi-disciplinary teams is to find a common language that will help us achieve clearly defined objectives on the basis of a strong discipline-specific orientation and high quality.
“For instance, in Utrecht, in association with paediatricians, game developers, psychologists and animal researchers, I’m conducting a study on how to make children and adolescents with chronic diseases stronger through games.
”This involves finding a common language together, making inquiries about each other’s models and arriving at an agreement on the results of the research you have done together. I think it’s important that people be stimulated and enthused when doing this.”
Deans at EUR have a great deal of authority and autonomy. Administrators sometimes find that hard to deal with. How are you planning to capture the deans’ hearts?
“Universities function by the grace of properly functioning faculties. I’m really looking forward to getting to know everyone and to seeing how best to collaborate.”
‘De campus droogleggen, is zeker niet mijn plan’
You will also be in charge of students and student life soon. What kind of student were you back in the day?
“I studied psychology at Groningen University, where, like many students, I learned a lot. What I liked best was being part of an academic community and really imbibing knowledge. I also enjoyed student life. I did not join a student association, but did serve as the president to a study association.”
In your capacity as the Director of the Trimbos Institute (which conducts research on drug and alcohol addiction, among other things), you spoke out against the beer cantus (beer sing-along) held during universities’ introduction weeks a few years ago. Should Rotterdam students be worried about the possibility of your prohibiting the consumption of alcohol on their campus following your inauguration?
(Laughs) “I’m not a teetotaller. I do not object to drinking alcohol on general principle. However, I do think students should take a more responsible approach to the consumption of alcohol; it’s not something that needs promoting. It’s foolish to think that different values apply to students than to other people. But I certainly don’t intend to make the campus an alcohol-free zone.”