Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC) had two deans in two-and-a-half years; a time during which there was, to say the least, a lot of unrest in the faculty. An announced merger, accusations of plagiarism by interim dean Dymph van den Boom1, stories about a culture of fear and a forensic investigation into employee e-mail accounts. The story ended with clarity from the Executive Board: ESHCC will remain independent. In early 2020, the Executive Board also apologised for the forensic investigation. Calm was restored. Martine van Selm started at the faculty on 1 November last year.
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The unsure future of ESHCC
Merger plans, a (supposed) case of plagiarism, a dean who suddenly leaves, professors who…
‘Lots to celebrate’
Starting in a new job while everyone is working online and at home is a challenge, explained Van Selm. “There’s no instruction manual for that. You just do everything online and meet people that way. I only met some people in the flesh for the first time last week.”
Despite the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, Van Selm is mainly proud of her first year: “There was also a lot to celebrate over the past year. We received the education and research award at the opening of the academic year. We have a newly appointed KNAW (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences) member, Suzanne Jansen. That’s really special and an honour. And we also celebrated the small things, like being able to hold diploma ceremonies in person again. That was also really special.”
Van Selm was not aware when working in Amsterdam that ESHCC had been through turbulent months in 2019. After she was approached to apply for the position of dean, of course she delved into the details of the faculty. “I understood that a merger had been investigated, that there were insurmountable problems related to this and that the merger was no longer on the cards. I was very keen to start and I really enjoyed it.” According to Van Selm, that’s still the case.
“I feel that the collaboration with the management team, the department heads and the other people I’ve met is going really well,” stated the dean. She hasn’t noticed a culture of fear at all. “Before my arrival, interim dean Frank van der Duijn Schouten took some major steps in establishing a new organisational structure that I could develop further.” An employee satisfaction survey conducted in the summer prior to her arrival was used to start addressing certain themes, such as work pressure and communication. “And about the
atmosphere: I don’t think that’s a major theme. We’re just getting on with delivering our fantastic teaching and research.”
In contrast to her predecessor Van den Boom, Van Selm has not been asked to make the faculty ‘more robust’. She started working in Rotterdam with ‘full commitment’ to manage a faculty she considers to be unique in the Netherlands; focusing on interdisciplinary research and education from the perspective of both humanities and social sciences. She became enthusiastic about the ‘international character’, the collaboration between the various disciplines and the research on social themes. For instance, Media and Communications are working with History to research racism in football. “The university has a strategy on creating impact, but you could say that we just do that every day at ESHCC.”
Van Selm is in discussions with the deans of Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Erasmus School of Philosophy and the International Institute of Social Studies to enhance social sciences and humanities within the university. “We have ideas for health humanities’ research and education; examining contemporary health issues from various disciplines. It’s a plan that still needs some further development. We’re already working a lot with other faculties, such as in the LDE.”2 Other students from other faculties are more than welcome at ESHCC, she emphasised. “For instance, they can enrol for our minors, such as the Fashion Industry minor.”
Culture Campus in Rotterdam-Zuid expected to open its doors in 2022
Erasmus University, Codarts Rotterdam, Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and the…
However, the collaboration between ESHCC, other faculties and the city will be really become noticeable in Culture Campus. As dean she is involved in this collaboration between EUR, Codarts, Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and the municipality, conducting research from various perspectives on issues that are important to Rotterdam citizens. The disciplines can then also learn from each other, stated Van Selm. “Scientists who are seeking more creativity in their work can learn from artists, and an artist who wants to conduct research in a new way during the creative process can learn from the scientist.”
It was announced in the summer of 2020 that the first Culture Campus lectures would take place in 2022. The entire campus was to be completed by 2025. According to Van Selm, this timetable is no longer accurate and it’s still unclear when the campus will be finished. “We’re in discussions with four major parties. That means that the process doesn’t always go quickly, but the plans are very robust and will become firmer in the coming months.” The dean is as yet unable to say anything about how the various disciplines will collaborate. A working group of researchers from EUR, Codarts and the Willem de Kooning Academy at Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences is working on those plans.