By awarding honorary doctorates focusing on social impact, Erasmus University seeks to emphasise how highly it values the societal impact of the scientific research conducted in Rotterdam. Therefore, the theme of the celebration of the university’s 105th anniversary on 8 November will be ‘Advancing Science, Impacting Society’.

The three professors who will be presented with honorary doctorates – who hail from the USA and the United Kingdom – were nominated by Erasmus Initiatives. The three scientists work on major topical issues such as migration and health care, which fall under Erasmus Initiatives’ overarching research themes, which were selected two years ago.

Each Initiative has its own professor, who will act as a so-called ‘honorary supervisor’ to a laureate. We asked all three professors to explain why they had chosen to award honorary doctorates to these particular researchers.

Debra Satz (Stanford University) – Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity

Debra Satz

Jack Vromen, Professor of Theoretical Philosophy: “We looked for someone whose academic work is of a very high standard, but who is also able to reach a large audience from various social strata. Satz meets both of these requirements. She is perfectly able to translate abstract literature and philosophical theories into practical situations.

“Among other things, Satz conducts research on the moral boundaries of market forces. This is very important in today’s society – just look at those hospitals that just went into liquidation. She writes about these subjects in a very accessible manner – for instance, in her book Why Some Things Should Not Be for Sale, in which she discusses whether it wouldn’t be better to protect people from the market sometimes. Take, for instance, people in non-Western countries who sell their own organs, be it legally or illegally. One might say: it is their own decision to do so, but in actual fact, such decisions are born of despair. Shouldn’t we be protecting people from such acts of despair?

“Satz also asks theoretical and philosophical questions, such as, why do we feel that market power is a bad thing in certain fields? For instance, in the USA, election campaigns are even more about money than they are here – basically, the presidency can almost be bought there. That doesn’t feel right, but why do we feel that way? And what does science have to say about that? Satz is the perfect person to explain that.”

Davey Smith (University of Bristol) – Smarter Choices for Better Health

George Davey Smith

Johan Mackenbach, Professor of Public Health Care: “One of the ideas that is central to our Initiative is prevention. Preventive measures help us prevent health problems without making health care all that much more expensive, and they also help us close the health gap.

“George Davey Smith has a superb track record in the field of the health gap. For instance, he showed that people’s health at a later age is affected by the socio-economic class in which they grew up. This line of thinking has by now been commonly accepted, meaning we now pay greater attention to preventive measures at an early age. One of the specific consequences of this is that many European government services are currently seeking to improve the quality of pre-school facilities. This is a good way to eliminate some of these long-term health effects.

“In addition, Davey Smith developed innovative analysis methods. For instance, he was one of the pioneers of Mendelian randomisation in epidemiology. This is a method used in genetics, which allows researchers to cleverly use the genetic differences between people to demonstrate the cause-and-effect relationship between behavioural and environmental factors on the one hand and health on the other.”

Nina Glick-Schiller (University of Manchester) – Vital Cities and Citizens

Nina Glick-Schiller

Inge Hutter, Professor of Participatory and Qualitative Research in Population and Development: “As far as I’m concerned, Glick-Schiller stands out because she is an anthropologist. She uses her anthropology background to investigate in a unique manner how migrants affect urban life, and how and to what extent this is resulting in what I would call ‘inclusive’ cities. This subject fits in with all three themes of our Erasmus Initiative: migration and diversity, security and resilience, culture and creativity.

“What is special about Glick-Schiller’s approach is that she analyses things from the migrant perspective. Which aspects of their home culture do migrants bring with them when they move to a new place? How do they stay connected to their background? And what effect does this then have on urban culture and society? This relates not just to practical matters, such as  eating habits, but also on rules and norms – for instance, with regard to marriage, raising children and politics. Furthermore, her study population is highly varied, ranging from Haitian migrants to migrants living in Germany and in the USA.

“When we think about migration, we often think of nationality, but as Glick-Schiller’s research teaches us, there’s a lot more to it than that. For instance, it’s about being ‘from a different place’, about having a different background. This also includes social mobility – people from a working-class environment going to university – or moving from the countryside to the city. For example, I myself am from the more rural province of Drenthe. I have brought Drenthe things to Rotterdam and The Hague. They are part of my identity, and they help me make these cities even more diverse. In a way, nearly everyone living in a city is a migrant.”