EM spoke with some associates of Brinksma at the University of Twente and in Hamburg, where the professor of Computer Science has been Präsident for the past two and a half years. They are ‘shocked’ in Hamburg that he is leaving so unexpectedly and so soon. The Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH) officially announced that this was for personal reasons. In any event, it is clear that Erasmus University, with some 30,000 students, is also just a wonderful opportunity for the 62-year-old Hague native, who has had his home base in Twente for many years now.
Maeslant flood defence system
Brinksma’s academic career began in 1982 with a mathematics degree in Groningen. He subsequently spent years at the University of Twente, where he obtained his PhD on the formal specification language LOTOS, a computer language which, in plain language, monitors software in vital systems, such as aircraft, to see if it is functioning properly. One of the applications of LOTOS – which instantly links Brinksma to Rotterdam – is incorporated in the software of the Maeslantkering, a Delta Works storm surge barrier in the estuary of the Nieuwe Maas river. The government stipulated a margin of error of 0.01 percent for this concerning each decision made to open or close. Brinksma was appointed a professor in Twente back in 1991.
One other important feather in his cap: in the early years of his career there was an international conference focusing on Formal Methods. Except that it turned out to be extremely American in orientation. Together with three colleagues, Brinksma established TACAS , a European variant. It has become one of the most important conferences in this field. The twenty-fifth edition took place last year.
Fish in water
Brinksma also served as Rector Magnificus at the University of Twente for eight years. Sources say he was pretty popular. He is ‘someone who loves life’ and feels like a fish in water during get-togethers. In interviews with the media he comes across as open, although he ‘does goes on a bit too much in detail’ at times and prefers not to be interrupted. One of the ways to win people over is to cook for them. He cooks for university employees on a number of occasions. Clearly, he loves the good life.
He asserts himself as rector in substantive terms as well. In 2013, he was involved from the outset with the introduction of the Twente Educational Model (TOM), which separates education into ten-week modules and assigns students a great deal of personal responsibility, places knowledge within a broad social context and trains students to become researchers, designers and organisers. It is regarded as a means of modernising education, but a considerable amount of criticism came from the University Council concerning this method: it would likely increase the workload for lecturers and drive down standards. Despite this criticism, the relationship between Brinksma and the council has always been positive. “He is always very transparent. I have never seen him angry either.”
His jovial reputation led to the creation of a parody of him, known as Eb Drinksma. The parody version of the rector has his own Facebook page and twitter account, is awfully self-assured and regularly indulges in a bottle of Moët or a few rounds of beers. Brinksma takes the joke (which has been going on for at least three years) in a very sportsmanlike way: with a healthy dose of self-deprecation he bid farewell as rector in 2016 with a video in which he pretends to be Eb Drinksma. “Tomorrow, not only will our rector bid farewell, but I, Eb Drinksma, shall as well. And there’s only one way to celebrate that -with drinks!” states the real rector in the video. Sources at the university reassure EM that the drink problem of the parody rector is not based on reality but is just a caricature of the bon vivant nature of the rector. A photograph of a crowd-surfing rector (at his farewell party) confirms that image.
Brinksma is not often present at his Department of Formal Methods and Tools anymore because of his rectorship, but he is there whenever he can be, and he still has an important role to play there. One of his colleagues told EM that his experience comes in handy when it comes to applications for research grants and he does like to lend a helping hand.
During his career Brinksma has regularly spent periods abroad. In Sweden Aa the start of the nineties, ten years later he lands a position in Aalborg, Denmark, and after his current rectorship he will join the Stevens Institute of Technology for a while in New Jersey, USA. Thanks to his excursions, he now speaks several languages fairly well. Fluent English, German – and even Swedish has stayed with him.
His excellent German also helped him get the top job in Hamburg. There again, Brinksma rapidly grew in popularity thanks to his ‘relaxed character.’ “He doesn’t pay much attention to traditions or formalities,” an employee of the TUHH explains. He cooked for staff there too – ‘it was really quite delicious.’ They also call him ‘open-minded’, a ‘good listener’ and he is interested in others. Unfortunately for these Hamburgers, they were only able to benefit from this for two and a half years, as he is now moving on to Erasmus University.