In 1989, Marjoleine van Doorn was still organising international scientific conferences on behalf of the academic publisher Elsevier, but the birth of her first daughter made travelling very difficult. This is why she decided to transfer to Erasmus University, where she was to coordinate a wholly different type of event: the Eurekaweek.
Pissing against the bar
Chuckling: “All sorts of things already went wrong with the collection of the participation fees, and then the closing party still had to come.” At that party, in the Engels establishment next to Rotterdam Central Station, things got completely out of hand, according to a contemporary article in the newspaper Het Vrije Volk. A member of the introduction committee told the newspaper: “The carpet in Engels was ruined by burning cigarette butts. At one point, a couple of those frat boys even pissed against the bar.” The damage: thousands of guilders’ worth of damage. Van Doorn: “Consequently, the university had to fill in the gaps, and not for the first time.”
Until then, there was some oversight of the committees that organised Eurekaweek, Van Doorn recounts, but the students basically ran the show. That had to change from 1990 onwards. “The first thing I did was to put the finances in order, and see to it that it would have some continuity by providing better documentation.”
Stricter oversight did not lead to strained relationships by any means. Van Doorn was very fond of the committee, which was already in place in 1990 before she was appointed. “In that committee, they were all incredibly businesslike types. There was a spirit of entrepreneurship in those people. They understood perfectly well that you can’ t spend more money than you can take in. We had two real tigers, who would chase everyone up with their Excel spreadsheets and all kinds of lists. That Eurekaweek ran like clockwork, there were no incidents, and we got loads of compliments. I was extremely grateful for that”, Van Doorn says proudly with a sense of pride thirty years later.
Sometimes Van Doorn can barely visualise how things were back then. “The university was always completely closed the weekend before Eurekaweek. So, we had to drag our entire office out of there. In 1990, the committee ended up at the home of Van Doorn during the preparations for the week. “Then they sat in my backyard stuffing hundreds of meal vouchers into envelopes. I was buttering bread for about seventy people who helped us fill the bags.”
Throughout the actual week, Van Doorn’s main task was that of coach and mentor. “And to reassure parents,” she laughs. “Then someone would call me and say: ‘Yes, ma’am, my daughter is from a small village and she is going to be sleeping in the gym. Is there a separate boys’ and girls’ dormitory? Will you be there too?” Then the whole committee would laugh, because we all knew what that was about, of course. I told them that we were doing our utmost to ensure that everything would be safe. Still, I could certainly understand that parents were sometimes worried that we might lose someone somewhere in the middle of the night. You can never really guarantee that nothing will happen. But that an ‘adult’ was present was often enough to cheer them up.”
In the week of 1991, she was heavily pregnant with her second child. “That’s what I like about students: they never freak out about things like that. We had to go around the pubs and clubs in the middle of the night in a van while I was seven months pregnant. So, I would tell them: if something happens, you have to call this person, my husband is at home, and if things go really wrong, you have to get me to the hospital.” At the closing party, she still stood on stage with her pregnant belly, Lee Towers and the committee. “We did the polonaise with everyone there. I had so much fun then.” She gave birth eight weeks later, and as a tribute to her committee she did it wearing a Eurekaweek T-shirt.
Van Doorn only had to step in once in a while, like the year after that. “My third committee made a sponsorship deal with a well-known computer brand. It sounded fantastic, and involved thousands of guilders, ultimately too good to be true. And it was -the committee had offered the company a kind of exclusive deal for all computers at the entire EUR. “Of course, that can’t be done at all. The Eurekaweek is only allowed to make deals that relate to the Eurekaweek itself. So, the party ended up being cancelled. That was a really bitter pill for the committee, which desperately needed the sponsorship money.”
Van Doorn’s position at the municipality brought her into contact with Eurekaweek again in 2017, when the municipality started using civil servants as city guides during the introduction week. She noticed then that the character of the week had also hardly changed in all those years. “There is still a main opening event, an information market and an introduction to the city. No, nothing much has changed. They still even use the logo that we first introduced in 1990.”