Now some economist is probably reading this and thinking: that can’t be right, you can’t celebrate your 50th anniversary ten years after you’ve celebrated your 100th. The fact that we are in this situation, however, is mainly due to economists. The Nederlandsche Handels-Hoogeschool was founded in 1913 and we now regard it as the beginning of Erasmus University – although the latter would only actually open 60 years later.

At the time, the name Erasmus University sparked debate, even in the Dutch House of Representatives. The House had to approve the establishment of this new university during a parliamentary debate on 20 December 1972. All the then public universities were named after the city where they were located, such as Leiden University, Utrecht University and the University of Amsterdam. Why should those Rotterdammers name their university after a person: Erasmus? Opinions in the House of Representatives were divided. The social democrat Masman liked the name, partly because it gave the Rotterdam-based university a ‘local flavour’. Protestant-Christian politicians in particular thought the name was too controversial for a university.

Minister of Education Chris van Veen – who would later become president of employers’ confederation VNO-NCW – came up with a workable compromise: the name Erasmus University would not be formally included in the law, but it could still be used by the university in its ‘own parlance’ and in all ‘documents originating from that institution’. The Erasmus University of 1973 was a merger of the economic university of applied sciences of 1913 and the medical faculty which was founded in 1966 as part of the academic hospital in Rotterdam. Here and there the question was asked as to what exactly was so ‘Erasmian’ about the Rotterdam-based university, which was mostly home to economists and medical researchers.

This question also hung like a shadow over the parliamentary debate of 1972. If the people of Rotterdam were so eager to name their university after Erasmus, a man of the arts, then it should at least have a faculty of humanities, according to some of the MPs. This didn’t work out, since Rotterdam was too close to the university in Leiden. But Erasmus University did add a philosophy faculty, and this ESPhil in now one of the only two of its kind in the Netherlands. This faculty also carries out research on Erasmus and the founding of our university, in particular the question of why exactly the name Erasmus was chosen in 1973. Was this primarily a matter of marketing, or did people really feel strongly about it?


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So what do we do on 1 February 2023? It seems foolish to celebrate our 50th anniversary ten years after our 100th. Or is that actually fitting for Erasmus who, after all, wrote Lof der Zotheid [Praise of Folly]? A philosopher who was usually in the mood for a party. We just have to accept the fact that the numbers don’t add up: I’ll leave that problem to the economists.

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