hoogleraren cortege opening academisch jaar 2019 foto ronald van den heerik (27)

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The endowed professor will (largely) disappear from EUR

By promoting endowed professors to full professorship, the EUR - almost - achieves the…

Erasmus University’s ‘special professors’ are a special brand. Typically, ‘special professors’ (bijzondere hoogleraren in Dutch) have their chairs funded (‘endowed’) by external parties. They are professors with endowed chairs, although Frank van der Duijn Schouten, the Dean of the Erasmus School of Economics (ESE), likes to refer to them as ‘sponsored professors’. “Endowed chairs allow parties active in our society to create new research opportunities at universities.” So if a foundation or company working in a particular industry feels that too little research is being conducted on a particular subject, it can choose to endow a chair at a university to ensure that the research does get carried out.

However, Erasmus University also has a different type of ‘special professor’. Here in Rotterdam, we have a large group of ‘special professors’ whose chairs are not funded by external sponsors. Rather, these ‘special professors’ tend to be associate professors on permanent contracts, who are temporarily appointed to a full professorship on top of their regular position, generally for a four-year period.

Whereas regular full professors are usually appointed ‘for life’, the university can use ‘special’ professorships to give talented academics the opportunity to present themselves as full professors, without having to give them permanent contracts. Since ‘special professors’ (like professors with endowed chairs) must be paid by external parties, they are typically formally paid by the Erasmus Trust Fund, with EUR giving the Trust Fund the funding to do so. This construction was unique in the Netherlands. Now the university is abolishing this type of professorship, which is resulting in some fifty ‘special professors’ transitioning to regular full professorships.

‘Harder to climb the next rung’

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Kirsten Rohde

So what will the abolition of the aforementioned route to a full professorship mean for the careers of individual academics? Will it be harder for them to transition from an associate professorship to a full professorship? This is a question Kirsten Rohde of ESE (a former ‘special professor’ who was just appointed to a full professorship herself) is worried about. “At the faculty, people are debating whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. For me, personally, it’s a good thing. As a regular full professor, I will no longer be required to prove myself worthy once every four years, and I will be given the liberty to structure my work in whatever way I like. But I do fear it will become harder for associate professors to climb the next rung.”

Sjoerd van Tuinen is an associate professor at the Erasmus School of Philosophy. He had not yet been informed of the abolition of this next step in his career. “No one told me anything about that. I think that’s kind of strange, because I think this may affect my career. It’s easier to become a ‘special professor’ than a regular full professor. If you wish to become a regular full professor, you must meet more requirements: more publications, a proven ability to attract a lot of funding.”

More temporary appointments in the future

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Willem Verbeke

‘Special professor’ Willem Verbeke (ESE) is retiring in January, so his professional title will not be affected by the change in any way. He always considered the ‘special professorship’ to be a very good thing. “In America I was often wrongly called ‘distinguished professor’, which had a very fancy ring to it!” But he also liked the fact that he was required to prove once every four years that his performance had been up to scratch. “It’s quite common for regular full professors to start hiding in management positions or consultancy gigs. I always had to keep working hard to be able to keep my title, and that’s a good thing.”

‘CEOs of banks such as ING or ABN-AMRO aren’t appointed for life, either. They’re expected to obtain good results, and if they don’t, they’re asked to leave the company.’

Willem Verbeke

Verbeke believes that full professors will no longer be appointed for life in the future. “CEOs of banks such as ING or ABN-AMRO aren’t appointed for life, either. They’re expected to obtain good results, and if they don’t, they’re asked to leave the company. Life tenure is an outdated concept.”

Verbeke is already being proved right in some respects: many of the newly appointed full professors are appointed for five years. If their performance leaves a little to be desired at the end of those five years, they are stripped of their full professorships and given the title of associate professor again instead. So, basically, they are subject to the same requirements as ‘special professors’. They just don’t get to use the word ‘special’ in their title.

Cosmetic change

Frank van der Duijn Schouten
Frank van der Duijn Schouten Image credit: Aysha Gasanova

ESE Dean Van der Duijn Schouten acknowledges that the change is mostly of a cosmetic nature. “The phrase ‘special professor’ is fraught with confusion in an international context. The English translation we use, ‘endowed professor’, means something else abroad.” At his own faculty, seven of the current fifteen full professors will be appointed for a period of up to five years, after which period their performance will be assessed. The remaining eight will be appointed to full professorships without a probationary period due to the extensive experience they obtained as ‘special professors’. Two others will continue to be called ‘special professors’, because they will soon retire.

The fifteen ‘special professors’ at ESE include three women, meaning the percentage of women professors at the faculty will increase considerably. This is a good thing, because Erasmus University has committed to ensuring that at least 20 per cent of EUR’s full professors will be female by 2020, and the current ESE percentage is too low (2.5 per cent, according to the university’s annual report). “But that is not why we are implementing this change,” says Van der Duijn Schouten. “Perhaps the university is speeding up the change due to the 20-per-cent-female-professors-by-2020 deadline.”

Female talent

Van der Duijn Schouten is quick to emphasise that he is committed to striking a proper balance between male and female employees at his faculty. “At the assistant professor level, the faculty is already doing a much better job of creating a well-balanced male-to-female ratio. We keep a close eye on talented female academics and on how we can provide them with additional support and advice, and sometimes we have some funds available to allow them to reduce their administrative workload.” However, it is obvious that ESE will not meet the 2020 deadline. “We do not intend to externally recruit female full professors. We have our own recruitment policy, and we do not wish to discourage our own people.”

What consequences will the faculty face if it fails to meet the deadline? “I believe we will receive a reprimand. I think the Executive Board can tell that we are seriously working on it, but that it will take us a little longer to get it all done.”

‘I think the Executive Board can tell that we are seriously working on it, but that it will take us a little longer to get it all done.’

Van der Duijn Schouten about 'the quota of female professors'
Hoogleraren 0604-2

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