There was a performance by seven members of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, ably supported by spoken-word artist Mariana Hirschfeld and singer Sonia Andrade. Three recipients of honorary doctorates gave enthusiastic lectures; a cheerful student was on hand to present the whole thing; and the speeches given by the university’s board members didn’t go on for too long. In short, the university’s anniversary celebration was just fine. So it was a pity the Auditorium was less than half full.

The procession of professors was modest and largely consisted of external invitees, emeritus professors and the university’s directors. Thankfully, there were obviously some representatives of student societies, too, who brought down the average age of the attendees. However, there were few representatives of study societies, although Rotterdam has considerably more of those than it does fun-oriented student societies.

Non-society-representing students hardly ever attend formal academic functions, even though attendees are presented with free beer and bitterballen afterwards. This year, the bitterballen were actually vegetarian.

There may be an explanation for the low turnout. Only one major faculty was represented among the three recipients of the honorary doctorates, and this faculty just happened to be the Erasmus MC, whose academics are known to be very averse to the trip from Hoboken to Woudestein (for their part, Woudestein-based academics are not overly fond of travelling the other way, either).

Officially, the honorary doctorates were bestowed by the three Erasmus Initiatives, but the persons selecting the recipients (the so-called ‘honorary supervisors’) represent the The Hague-based ISS and the rather small Erasmus School of Philosophy, whose supporters clearly weren’t numerous enough to fill the entire auditorium.

Academic staff without long gowns (i.e., the majority of academics) were also few and far between in the auditorium. Most attendees were support staff working at university-wide departments and faculties.

I was reminded of the turnout for last week’s American mid-term elections, and the margin by which it exceeded the turnout for the previous midterms. Now, I have no wish whatsoever to inflict a Donald Trump on this university, but I do think that a little more controversy on the stage would attract a greater crowd to the event.

Perhaps the first step has already been taken. Because after the event, a member of staff who clearly got it said jokingly, “The lectures given by the recipients of the honorary doctorates were all very progressive. Perhaps that’s why so few RSM professors attended the event.”