I couldn’t find it on the library website, so I spoke to a librarian. Together, we concluded that the work isn’t in our library. “I see that they have it in the central library, so perhaps you could look there”, he said, agreeing with my comment that it was rather odd that Erasmus University doesn’t have the entire works of the philosopher that gives it its name. It does make you wonder what exactly the link is between the man and the university that bears his name.

Rotterdam and Erasmus

It’s almost as if the fact that Erasmus was born here is more important than the ideas that made him famous. In Rotterdam, we like to call things after Erasmus: so besides the university, we have an Erasmus bridge, an Erasmus house, an Erasmus canal, an Erasmus Medical Centre and we had an Erasmus metro line.

For all these things, the link between the man and the city is a logical reason for their names, but for a university that is so big in the humanities, you would hope that the philosopher’s revolutionary humanism would be the basis for its name. But how can you justify that if his ideas are not even available in its own university library?

Learning from Erasmus

How many students have even read anything by Erasmus? Fine, some will have read In Praise of Folly. Maybe a few can even quote something from Adagia. After that, things start to look dire. There is certainly no teaching about his philosophy in the Law and Economic degrees, although I don’t know about the other programmes.

But what is the value of the university’s name if no one knows what ideas it symbolises? In the strategy, vision and mission of the university, painful gaps might arise if the objective of Erasmus University does not correlate with the philosophy of Erasmus. For example, Erasmus believed that education is the path to human self-improvement. He also feels that priority must be given to ethics over logics and the Bildung of students over testing factual knowledge. Slavishly being able to reproduce facts is not knowledge in Erasmus’ opinion. When I view our ever-growing university, focused on diploma output instead of educating students, I wonder how much these values correspond.

Shelf of honour

Even in this secular, modern world, students can learn a great deal from the philosophy of Erasmus. For example, his anti-nationalist ideas, expressed in the familiar slogan ‘the whole world is my homeland’ is more relevant than ever. But we can only learn if the resources are available at this university and we are encouraged to absorb this knowledge. It would be nice, for example, if there was a shelf of honour, in the middle of the university library, where the Collected works of Erasmus had pride of place. Every student, academic and employee could then pick up a book and study it, generating new conversations about his philosophy and ideas. So that Erasmus starts to play a real role in life at Erasmus.

Read one comment