On Monday 7 October in the year 2019 at 1.00 p.m., the Glass House filled up. Staff members, PhD researchers, office members and students poured in. Extra chairs were dragged in. Some people had to stand. A plenary faculty emergency meeting. What’s going on?

The perplexity is gargantuan

FA muller
F.A. Muller.

The governance genius Frank van der Duijn Schouten, ex-Rector of the University of Tilburg as well as the Free University Amsterdam and ex-Dean of ESPhil, set up the new organisation structure of ESPhil. He designed the new policy and the required financing, ensured himself of the support of the other Deans of all other EUR Schools, and by way of a finale succeeded in obtaining the approval for all of this from the Board of the EUR. This man – who is currently interim Dean of the Erasmus School of Economics (ESE) and since June 2019 also of the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC) – has, at the request of the Board, written a Report with several options in which the destruction of ESPhil figures prominently. We shall be discussing that Report in the Glass House.

The perplexity is gargantuan. Some speak of back-stabbing. After being cheered and praised at his farewell as Dean of ESPhil with the Board present, our governance genius tries to eliminate us from a distance, like a sniper? We try to understand what is happening here. The expression proper governance suddenly obtains an entirely new meaning. Perhaps such unexpected changes in meaning are the hallmark of a governance genius in action.

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Hermeneutic chewing gum

The challenged report, written by our governance genius, carries the title Erasmus University Rotterdam without Humanities is like spring without lettuce. The hermeneutic chewing gum after like confuses even the philosophers. The Report does not appear to be about ESHCC. But it is only about it. How do we cure ESHCC? For this School is sick: an outbreak of chaositis has contaminated everyone and governance-wise it is a mess. In manager jargon this is called `lack of coherence’ and ‘opacity of decision processes’. The image that this Report evokes is a collection of Duchies, who operate autonomously, appoint their own personnel, spend money as they please, and everything without any democratic control. The dukes and duchesses live in discord. Recently one full professor of ESHCC had to be transposed to ESPhil, which apparently was the only possibility to end an impossible situation at ESHCC; she is not a philosopher yet is currently officially employed by ESPhil. I have nothing against this highly learned lady. But I do find it strange that a non-philosopher suddenly occupies a Chair in a faculty of philosophy.

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Animosity between the Duchies

The task of the Dean of ESHCC seems to be to protect the status quo and to leave the Duchies be. Because enough funding money and students enter ESHCC, no alarm went off in the Board Room. The situation has however worsened so much that the animosity of the dukes and duchess is splattering all over the Board Room. The Board has felt the necessity to intervene. The ex-rector of the Board of the University of Amsterdam, Dymphna Cornelia van der Boom, strolled to Rotterdam and was, being a governance heavyweight, appointed by our Board to interim Dean of ESHCC. She would restore law and order in ESHCC. Rumour has it, however, that we were hardly ever present, yet produced a Report recommending a merger of ESHCC and Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB). The Faculty Councils of both Schools objected to this merger. The Board decided wisely not to enforce a merger, for that would have only created a larger monster. Back to square one.

Snitching or whistle blowing?

Funny is that the governance heavyweight has been accused of plagiarism in some of her former work at the UvA. Snitches? Whistle-blowers? Suddenly the Board of the EUR sent a forensic institute to ESHCC to look into the e-mails of certain employees to find out whether they had talked to the press, presumably to smirch the Merger Witch. Meanwhile our governance heavyweight is strolling on, away from Rotterdam, perhaps with a collection of dies speeches of the EUR in her backpack. About the employment of methods of criminal investigation by the Board, which made the national press, and which made the EUR a target of scorn in the Leiden University magazine Mare with painful citations of Desiderius Erasmus, I pass over in silence. I do observe that all this is ultimately a consequence of the ESHCC problem.

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In the Lettuce Report of our governance genius it rains mergers. What the forwardly strolling Van der Boom can do, he can do better! A merger of ESHCC and ESPhil, an idea that comes to mind to every Board of the EUR (which, apparently and disturbingly, does not learn anything from previous experience), is one instance of the options in the Lettuce Report.

A merger! A merger between a school of nearly 200 employees and one having hardly 40 employees is not a merger. That is engulfing and digesting. And this would dismantle the Duchies of ESHCC? An additional and contaminated Castle Black will be the result. The end of philosophy at the EUR, after all!

Frank, what are you doing?

Just after ESPhil, in a brand new state and judged with the highest score (excellent) for viability and impact according to the latest National Research Visitation Report of 2019, and its flourishing Double-Degree programme has restarted like Max Verstappen in his personal Aston Martin Vanquish, it awaits its destruction. What is wrong with our governance genius to behave so destructively and to ignore the arguments in his own advice to the Board of a few years ago? What moves him to lay down impossible options on the Board’s table, which will provoke responses that are as predictable as Dutch rainfall? Frank, what are you doing?

Once again: philosophy is not a science and therefore does not belong in any science faculty, like a bird is not a fish and does belong in an aquarium. Put a bird in an aquarium and it will drown.

In the Glass House, logician Stefan Wintein remarks that our poor governance genius has confused two things: (i) to find a vaccine against chaositis in ESHCC, and (ii) to solve the alleged problem that the EUR is insufficiently visible in the field of Humanities. Does our governance genius know what a Faculty of Humanities requires? Without languages, literature and philology, there cannot be an Erasmus School of Humanities, declared Professor of History of Philosophy Wiep van Bunge. Agreement everywhere. If the Board were to enforce it nonetheless, this would make the EUR the risée of Dutch Academia. Problem (ii) is a non-problem. The EUR cannot erect a School of Humanities, unless the Board wants to grab in deep pockets to start studies in languages, literature and philology. And then compete with Leiden, Utrecht and Amsterdam? Seriously? Another building on Woudestein? With at least extra 50 personnel? Has the Board struck oil?

Our governance genius is a mathematician and does not know what he is talking about. Is his success getting the better of him? He will deal with all governance problems on Woudestein, and then will depart as the Messiah of the EUR, musing about a statue on campus next to the one whose name our university carries? Our reformed-Protestant friend is losing his meekness. Frank, what is happening to you?

Unanimous against any merger

Instead of a faculty of humanities, which all other Dutch universities have, the EUR has an independent faculty of philosophy, as the only one in the Netherlands – bracketing the University of Groningen, which happily is far away from Rotterdam. ESPhil helps to distinguish the EUR in the university landscape of the Low Countries. No, the EUR does not have a School of Humanities and should not want one either.

The unanimity in the Glass House is a fact. No merger. Over our cold, dead bodies.

esphil eshpm Philosophy

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Eliminate the chaositis, do not spread it

But then what do we do with the chaositis of ESHCC? Let me help the Board and provide a piece of unsolicited advice: reorganisation. The awareness of the dukes and duchess of the fact that they could build their Duchies thanks to the EUR, thanks to the institutional environment that is the EUR, which is a necessary condition for the possibility of their very academic existence, is absent or fading. The time has come that the leaders of the EUR take charge and show their teeth. Beware of soft hands and stinking wounds. Leave the other, healthy and flourishing faculties out of it, rather than drag them into it. The Board needs to eliminate the chaositis, not to spread it. The purpose of a reorganisation is to set up a novel governance and organisation structure – think of a faculty-wide mission with open eyes to existing expertise, by our governance genius or by another governance genius. Then everybody will be given a choice: remain and behave, or leave with three months’ salary.

Finally, I turn to the employees of ESHCC. Think about the millions and millions of people who have so much less than every one of you. Reflect on you current life. Think of the institute that has made your academic existence, career and success possible. Realise this. Elevate yourself. Be thankful. A new day for a new sun. Without lettuce. With fields of flowering bulbs and meadows of mooing cows.

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