The unknown person and the Mayor mentioned to the Minister the plans that were afoot to set up a university in Rotterdam. If it ever came to be, they had a good name for it: Erasmus. It was an idea that had been discussed as early as 1969 by a group of Rotterdam businessmen, who regularly got together to read the works of classical authors, and of Erasmus.

On 8 November, it will be fifty years since Erasmus University was founded, at a party at De Doelen convention centre. I didn’t know who had come up with the name until I read an interesting story in the Rotterdams Jaarboekje (Rotterdam Yearbook). The 1982 yearbook contained a special article on ‘The naming of Erasmus University Rotterdam’, written by Rotterdam publicist Freek Brevet, in which he talked about the meeting with the Mayor and the Minister at Feyenoord Stadium.

Freek Brevet wrote about how a member of the group of Erasmus-reading businessmen, ‘standing in front of the silverware in the trophy cabinet’, managed to convince the Minister to adopt the name Erasmus. Brevet also explained how this unknown person was able to organise this meeting in De Kuip: it turns out he was a member of the Feyenoord Stadium board. Brevet did not reveal who the organiser of the meeting was, but I think it was actually him. This suspicion grew when I discovered that Brevet, a former banker, had been a board member at Feyenoord Stadium.

That was not the first time the establishment of a university in Rotterdam had been discussed; the idea was first raised in the 1950s, when plans were made to expand the Netherlands School of Economics into a university. The prevailing opinion among the economists was that this should be the University of Rotterdam, a name that seemed pretty obvious (in line with the University of Amsterdam, or Leiden or Delft), and also one that was doing the rounds in Rotterdam political circles.

After the chat in the refreshments area at De Kuip, Freek Brevet’s name popped up more frequently; for example in 1972, when Minister De Brauw received a letter from a group of prominent Rotterdam citizens, including Mayor Thomassen. This letter was drafted by none other than Freek Brevet. With regard to the name of the new university, he wrote: ‘We consider the name “Rotterdam” inadequate, since the emphasis of this city has historically been more on trade and commerce than science and scholarship’.

According to the author of the letter, a university in Rotterdam should do two things: be a beacon of scholarship, and be accessible to young people from the lower classes in the city. And no one exemplified these goals better than Erasmus, who was born in this city as an illegitimate child and became the greatest scholar in Europe. The author of the 1972 letter knew it well, and was proud ‘to be able to recommend the name Erasmus’. Resistance to the name continued, mainly from the economists at the School of Economics and Rotterdam politicians, but as usual, the Rotterdam businessmen won in the end.

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