‘Postponement’ is not something that will quickly be associated with the ever-punctual Maria Grever, although it is an appropriate word for her departure. She was actually supposed to retire to emeritus status on 27 November 2019, but stayed on for a while at the Faculty Board’s request. Grever has been emeritus professor since 1 April, but what about the planned departure? That was postponed by the coronavirus pandemic.

At the end of June, Grever gave an online presentation of her new book Onontkoombaar Verleden (Inescapable Past), but this was explicitly not a farewell event. “When you leave you also want to thank people and you don’t do that via a webinar”, explained Grever. “Certainly not after all this time.” She was involved with the History department for some twenty years. Not only as Professor of Theory and Methods of History but also as Education Director, founder of the Centre for Historical Culture (2006), and in recent years as Head of the History Department.

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The last meeting in which Maria Grever was head of the History department. (February 2020)

15 May 2020 was certainly circled in red for over a year in the diaries of Grever and Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC). That was to be the day of her leaving do. The guests were invited, the hotel rooms were booked despite the Eurovision Song Contest running at the same time, and the menu for the farewell dinner had been finalised – with vanilla ice cream for dessert. “And then the coronavirus arrived. That was a huge disappointment”, stated Grever. “I’m still hoping that I can hold my farewell speech in the aula in late autumn, or in January 2021 if necessary.” It’s possible that this will not be as big an event as originally planned, since it’s still not clear how the virus will develop. “We postponed it with a heavy heart and although the online book presentation was ‘simply great’, I could really do with a bit of closure, to coin a phrase.”

Privilege

What next? Someone with a 31-page CV (‘and that’s just a selection’) is certainly not going to stay out of the action. “People are asking me if I want to go travelling, but that’s not for me”, stated Grever. “I like visiting France, Italy and Spain. But I really enjoy reading and writing and I deeply miss giving lectures.” She will be starting a new challenge on 1 August, as NL-Lab research fellow in the KNAW Humanities Cluster. Research is being developed here on Dutch culture and identity. “I’m really delighted and honoured by this appointment. There are really good and inspiring researchers there and I’ll be able to reflect on and discuss my new research with them, and vice versa, they’ll be able to benefit from my experience.”

ESHCC is still looking for a new Dean. Is that not an option? The answer arrives before the question finished: “Oh, no! That’s nothing for me, and I’ve been asked to take on such positions many times. It seems such a hard job and one that I don’t find very interesting. My work was the ideal combination of doing research, writing, giving lectures and carrying out management tasks in my specialist field: History. The workload was always high, but I kept it that way because I enjoyed it so much. I’m telling you: that position was a true privilege.” There was a period in which I received a request a week for a committee, a prize-giving, lecture or ‘something else really exciting’.

With heart and soul

Changes were introduced five years ago to keep the History study programme ‘vital’. Inspired by the then Rector Henk Schmidt, the teaching blocks in the first year of the bachelor degree were reduced so that there could be more focus on one course. And since then it’s also been possible to follow the bachelor degree and master degree in English. The then Executive Board also decided that History should have a minimum number of students, and that lower limit was achieved easily each year.

Grever is proud of each result she has achieved over the years: the increase in student numbers, all the research funds obtained by researchers, the research itself, but certainly the external research and education assessments. “You can’t imagine how much work is involved in these assessments”, she explained. The report of a recent research assessment has just been received. For ‘social impact’ the department received an excellent, and a very good for both research and long-term perspective.

As recently departed head of the department, the success is also largely hers. “I’ve worked with heart and soul for the department and faculty since 2000, and have enjoyed everything most of the time. I’m someone who likes to build something within my specialist field or related field and I enjoy doing that together with colleagues. The Centre for Historical Culture that I founded in 2006 is very precious to me.”

And yet, all these fantastic results over the past few years have left a slightly bitter aftertaste. The Keuzegids selected the Rotterdam History bachelor degree as the best in the Netherlands for three consecutive years. “That was during my time as departmental head. This also happened when I was programme director (2002-2007). I used to receive a note or bunch of flowers from the Rector, but now we’ve received nothing. Ab-so-lu-tely nothing!” It’s not a disaster, as she says herself, but she misses that token of appreciation.

Where are the women?

The Chair of Grever has been empty since 1 April and there is still no successor. “Although we were promised that.” Interim Dean, Frank van de Duin Schouten is now also the interim departmental head.1 Grever hopes that a replacement will be found quickly because all her old tasks from giving lectures to management tasks are being carried out by her former colleagues. “Without a successor, even more work ends up on the shoulders of those who are already so overloaded. They’re not robots.”

Grever would not like to say who should take over ‘her’ Chair, as that’s not up to her. “Although I do notice that there is only one female structural Chair holder in the faculty. That’s really disappointing.” Ten years ago there were three women with a structural Chair within ESHCC. As well as disappointing, Grever finds it worrying that there’s now only one.

Grever says that it is extremely important for an organisation that it gets the gender balance right. Female professors are, for instance, not only needed for diversity, but are also vital as role models and contact points for younger women with academic ambitions. The lack of women in senior positions is not good for ESHCC, neither internally nor externally. “Actually in these times it’s really stupid. And getting a female Dean won’t help. It’s simply vital that you also have enough women in the departments, and not only assistant professors but professors too.”

The most difficult year

Grever looks back with real fondness on her work at EUR, with the exception of academic year 2018/2019. “Mergers often bring out the worst in people, and that is what happened”, she reflected. The merger of the faculty didn’t happen in the end, but people really started to oppose each other. Grever feels that so much was lost that year. Money, time and trust. “All that wasted energy for nothing.”

Last academic year wasn’t great for the faculty, but was a particularly bad one for Grever. In a departmental meeting, Professors Klemann and Wubs gave a vehement declaration of no confidence in the faculty management. According to them, someone from the faculty was said to have ‘leaked’ information to NRC Handelsblad (daily newspaper) about the then Interim Dean Dymph van den Boom committing plagiarism. Intense, personal criticism was also directed to Grever. The words ‘manipulative’ and ‘out for personal gain’ were mentioned. The men left the meeting without awaiting the discussion. Grever: “Everyone was shocked. Nobody went with them and we simply carried on with the meeting.” She found their behaviour to be ‘disproportionate, out of control, intimidating and unbecoming of a professor’. “The most embarrassing thing was that this all happened just prior to the external education assessment, which is so crucial for a study programme.” Immediately after their departure from the meeting an anonymous statement with the accusations they made about the four-member Faculty Board was sent to Erasmus Magazine. “The accusations were totally unfounded”, stated Grever. “This also became apparent from the bizarre Hoffmann investigation.”

The behaviour of these two professors made Grever feel unsafe. Van den Boom had left by then and in a temporarily Dean-less faculty, there was no manager with whom those involved could discuss the events. Grever’s criticism mainly applies to the lack of institutional support. “Apparently you’re fair game if you’re attacked, because there has never been any public rectification.” In a departmental meeting at the end of last summer, the Interim Dean read a statement in which he expressed his condemnation for the professors’ behaviour. Grever: “He also explained that Wubs, who was not present, had distanced himself both from the way they had acted and from the content of what they had said. I’ve still never heard anything from Klemann.”

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Siep Stuurman and Maria Grever Image credit: Michelle Muus

Grever didn’t lose any sleep over this until the moment that her farewell speech was postponed. When 15 May didn’t go ahead, she missed closure. She experienced a little closure during the online book presentation. “You’re the best colleague I’ve ever had”, stated historian Siep Stuurman at the presentation. “For me, your arrival in Rotterdam was a real opening to a better world. Not that the world before that wasn’t good, but the world after was better. At least my world.” Glowing praise at a farewell that explicitly wasn’t supposed to be a farewell.

Hein Klemann and Ben Wubs were both asked to respond. Both professors did not accept this offer.

  1. At the faculty council meeting dated 13 July, Van de Duin Schouten indicated that he first wanted the History department to reflect on its future. A new Chair holder should be sought based on that reflection and not the other way around, stated the Interim Dean. ↩︎