Professors in The Netherlands – Anthropology of the Dutch

Of all the countries and peoples
I visited… …the Dutch were the most peculiar. Not one people, but a tombola
of cultures, clubs and groups. With strange tribes
and exotic communities. Just like other anthropologists
before me… …I’m going to visit them,
dissect them… …measure them and understand them. I’m going on safari in our own country,
looking for the wild in each of us. Call me ‘the pigeonhole man’. the pigeonhole man In search of professors. Professors have been roaming around
for centuries… …scattered across the country. They have existed in Leiden
since the year 1575… …at the oldest university in our country… …established by the founder
of our country itself under the motto:Libertatis Presidium:
Bastion of Liberty. The figurehead is Professor Cleveringa,
the war hero. This is where the professors
shape the brains of literators. Of princes and princesses.
Of the Soldier of Orange. And an infinite series
of Ministers of Justice. The common city folk,Leienaren… …called the University members
Leidenaren. The students, the bachelors above
them, and the doctors above them… …and above them the professors… …who in turn only had the deans
and the rectors above them. The host of the university is officially
called the facility manager. But here, where the academic
mores and traditions are maintained… …he prefers to be referred to as
the custos. Custos means custodian.
– The custodian of the university. You must know the people well.
– I do, if I may so myself. Upon entering the academic world… …how do I make a good impression and
what should I avoid in terms of conduct? You should always address
a professor as professor. So should I adopt a humble position?
– Yes, don’t be too bold. Seriously? That’s your advice?
– Indeed. During an academic ceremony, we say: Hello professor,
hello Mr Custos, and so on. When we go for a beer at six o’clock,
or a shot of jenever… …it’s back to Harm and Eric.
That’s our protocol. People say Leiden is a bit
of a backward city. Long ago the people of Leiden were
labelled the dumbest people in Holland. But that’s long-outdated.
– Thanks to all of you. Those entering Leiden University
should realise it’s a very special place. The entrance to this temple of
knowledge is a fittingly sacred place. Newcomers,
awkward as they might feel… …have been properly instructed
by their student societies. Did you buy the suit specially for today?
– Yes. Seriously?
– Yes, I did. Most student societies… …oblige their members to be present
at the opening of the academic year. In exchange for their presence
the deans gather at a safe distance. It’s the beadle, the staff bearer’s task… …to unleash and present them
to the public. The eye catchers are the rector
and a guest speaker from Cambridge. They will intentionally
test their young listeners… I’d advise you to sit up straight. …through a lesson in patience. The rector magnificus,
or ‘excellent leader’… …is, besides a lecturer, both guardian
and ambassador of the University. He has the pleasant task
of announcing the harvest. We have around 250 students of History… 50 students of Philosophy,
100 Japanese, 850 Law… 500 Psychology
and 150 Biology students. The students form
the food of the University. The more students graduate,
the wealthier the academic community. The Alma Mater. It’s in the professor’s best interest to,
besides his own PhD students… …pay special attention to fresh blood
every now and then. Those who belong to a group of
exceptional secondary school pupils… …who need extra stimulation… …can get a guided tour
from an actual lecturer… …such as Ira van Dijk
from the Humanities Faculty. Where are the boys? Perhaps because girls are more
motivated at secondary school. What is the male female ratio
in your faculty? 80 percent girls, 20 percent boys. And when you were a student?
– It was the same. It’s not just any tour. It’s a special
cultural-historical-scientific tour… …along the university monuments. This is our newest monument. And to examine them critically. As though the lecturer
wants the pupils to know: We are not into fairy tales,
not even our own. This university has a ‘founding myth’. The university’s self-image
is examined critically. Like the tribute to Professor Cleveringa… …who taunted the occupier with
a plea for the freedom of science… …after his Jewish teacher was sacked. A story with a Leiden professor
as the hero. Great story. He was a hero. And you could say this is
a monument for Cleveringa… …who is depicted like Christ.
So it’s not specifically for the victims. Some universities have plaques for their
students and teachers who were killed. Here, we mainly celebrate
those who survived. We chose a hero rather than the six
million Jews who were killed as a symbol. There’s a lot of emphasis
on the Soldier of Orange story: The Dutch resistance story in which
heroic blond guys liberated the country. Cleveringa fits into that story. Before she landed in this bastion
of academic freedom… …this Modern Dutch Literature lecturer
worked in another academic bastion… …which was known for being
‘red’ and progressive: The University of Amsterdam. I worked at UvA. You studied there?
– Yes, and I did my PhD there. Your father was a lecturer too?
– Yes, also at UvA. So you’re really a UvA child? She’s a newcomer to Leiden. What differences struck you
between Leiden and Amsterdam? This felt more like a campus because
it’s a university town. It’s neater. Amsterdam is more anarchistic,
especially the Humanities Faculty. Nowadays there’s quite a strong
management culture in Amsterdam. There was much resistance to that. The more conservative nature
of Leiden also means… …you’d never ask a lecturer
to fill in an excel spreadsheet. That offers a certain freedom
that’s actually very modern. Interesting. Conservative and free. Liberal, is the word.
– Exactly. That has advantages
in an academic context. You don’t have to explain yourself,
because you’re a lecturer. The university forms an archipelago… …a group of densely
and sparsely populated islands. The population is divided into
Arts, Science, and Humanities. Humanists, including anthropologists,
study human behaviour. Scientists study nature
and what it produces. Arts scholars study everything
the human mind produces. Like Philosophy and Languages. Many Arts scholars can be found
in the Arsenal. Besides students,
one also finds professors here. Including Katarzyna Cwiertka. A Japanologist from academic circles
in Warsaw… …where the university is far more
conservative than in Leiden. Lecturers have a much higher status
in Poland, to this day. How would you explain that? Partly because the Dutch
are democratic. Nobody calls me professor. No one says: What do you think
about that, Professor Cwiertka? A modern professor is expected
to not only focus on science. Their wisdom is also
applied to administration… …organisation and acquiring funds. But that has nothing to do with science. So that’s not your job as a lecturer.
– It is. To do everything properly:
Administration, management, teaching… …and then some research
now and then… Then the day is simply too short. Despite this, lecturers still have some
time to exchange thoughts and ideas. Scholars from all disciplines
meet during collective courses. What do you talk about
at the coffee machine? In passing?
– Management. What helps is that future academics
supplement their ambitions… …with management challenges. One of the professor’s important tasks
is to produce doctors… …to provide the university family
with new genetic material. The professor takes
a PhD student under his wing… …lets him conduct research and requires
the result to be published… …in a thorough dissertation. If it is approved… …a ritual follows in which the university
welcomes a new family member. Every lecturer has a graduation gown. Not all of them, some of them
have borrowed gowns. Borrowed caps.
They often wear the wrong tie. How do I tie my tie? They’re highly educated
but they need a manual to tie a tie. Since Leiden University
is such a highly fertile place… …the day is easily filled
with doctoral ceremonies. It’s like a continuous performance.
– It is. Five PhD ceremonies.
Graduations here, lectures there. What’s that?
– A bachelor ceremony. The ceremonial ground crew
are indispensable: There is the custos,
and the general services officer. In the old days, he was called… An emissary. And the prime ceremony specialist:
the beadle. He shows
the PhD candidate the way. I will talk you through the ceremony. Highly esteemed promotor. You address the opponents as:
Highly learned opponent… …for non-lecturers it’s
‘Very learned opponent.’ Good luck. In Leiden the PhD candidate
arrives in a dress suit. And as he is to enter into marriage
with the university… …his pages are present as well:
the paranymphs. They remain by his side when
the opponents are unleashed on him. The PhD candidates are
about to enter into the family. They worry about the impression
they will leave behind. The love is there,
but hasn’t been approved yet. Time for the official proposal
in the form of a paternal interrogation. Mr Candidate? It’s the task of the learned
and the very learned opponents… …to put the doctoral candidate
to the test. The doctoral candidate
will defend his dissertation… …whilst adhering to the proper titles. Highly learned opponent,
yes, you are right. There is often a large audience,
despite the complex material. Only rarely does a doctoral candidate
leave the ceremony without a doctorate. It’s a game, which does however
need to be taken seriously. After precisely 45 minutes,
the beadle closes the discussion: The time is up. The professors and fellow opponents
will now deliberate. If the doctoral candidate’s defence
is deemed sufficient… …he will receive his PhD degree. Upon return, congratulations
are finally in order. After all, the genealogical tree
has grown. And if he wishes, the new doctor can end
his day with a century-old tradition: By carving his signature
in the walls of the Sweat Room. In the distant future, his name might
shine under a transparent plaque. Or serve as the background
for new names. You can almost hear the sound of
previous professors mutter grumpily. Soon, their portraits will be replaced
by a new batch of portraits… …of female professors from the present. They question the male predominance
on the walls of the Senate’s room. The problem is that female students
receive their PhD degree here. Almost half of them in Humanities. So I’m there with these intelligent young
women at the start of their careers. And they’re surrounded
by these strict men. I have nothing against men,
but they can be a bit domineering. With belligerent expressions,
the female lecturers at Leiden protest… …against the dark side of tradition. It’s just on the highest level. The level below that, highly qualified
university teachers, is full of women. But if the same proportion were
to go on to become a lecturer… …there would be a much better division. But something goes wrong
on the way up. The more solemn the deliberation… …the higher the chance that
communication is running smoothly. Like at this deans conference: The professors above professors… …the fathers and mothers of
the faculties chaired by Rector Stolker. Today is the eighth, but it’s also
the 494th deans conference. We have two absentees.
Simone is in Oxford. Here, the Leiden norms and values
are upheld. Conflict is avoided. There is no exaggeration,
and the tone is formal and courteous. However, the deans are also expected
to speak to each other in familiar terms. The seat left of the rector is always
reserved for the dean of Law. Perhaps that has to do with the fact
that of the University archipelago… …the island of Law has always been
densely populated. The Faculty of Law: The traditional alleged breeding ground
of the Leiden Snob. So many students apply here… …that the faculty has to organise
its own annual opening ceremony. With the speeches and gowns
it appears to be an old ritual… …but it is a very new tradition. Today, the rector magnificus
does not need to speak. Today, the rector’s own patience
is put to the test. Nevertheless, as I told my rector,
who is now typing his mobile phone… …nevertheless we are full. Teachers and lecturers of Law speak
freely about their favourite topic: Excellence. I’m talking about 31
special honours students… …that is to say students who achieved
an overall average of 8 or higher. Most professors remember the days… …when excellence
was a suspicious concept. I myself was educated 70s and 80s
which were fairly egalitarian times. Those days have radically changed. There is nothing suspicious anymore
about paying some extra attention… …to our best first-year students. Notwithstanding
the emphasis on excellence… …the professor is to accept
that he is on a par with this colleagues. In other words,
all lecturers receive the same salary… …regardless of the discipline. The largest island of the archipelago
lies outside the old city walls: The Leiden Bio Science Park. It is not densely populated,
but it has a fertile soil. It’s the biotope of the scientists. Biologists, mathematicians,
astronomers, physicists, chemists. The scientists don’t look
out on the canals. TheLeienarendon’t want their
bold experiments in the city centre. The scientists also have
to deal with an image… …of being male, grimy,
unworldly population. Insensitive pale faces
in cold laboratories. Even when they are trying hard
to reverse this image. Despite their image, the students
are comforted by the fact… …that most of the money goes to them. These brainy people are very valuable
to the university. The university depends
on their formulas… …and their insights
into nature behind nature… …where everything is different
and where an outsider notices… …that it is far beyond his comprehension
and all he can cling to, is his imagination. The university reveres them.
The stars amongst all lecturers. Famous far beyond the borders
and yet with typical Leiden modesty. Illustrious predecessors defy time
and space to guide their descendants. Like professor dr. Johannes Beenakker… …who is happy to see that his son
is also a renowned physicist. Professor dr. Carlo Beenakker
excels in his field… …which exonerates him from
executive tasks and giving lectures. But not necessarily.
– Yes, it’s important to me. But in terms of time investment it’s
a morning or a day at the most per week. So you are not here to teach.
– No. I’m here for the more advanced students
who can conduct science with me. The professor communicates
with his companions in English. Not because it is
the language of science… …but because his followers
are mainly from abroad. So where are the Dutch?
Did they go abroad? I think it has to do with the type
of people you encounter here. A typical Dutch student has his sports,
his girlfriend… …he’s a member of a club
and a student society. And on top of that, he’s doing a course.
They don’t really belong here. Someone who comes here thinking
they’re going to make big discoveries… …can leave straight away. Science is sitting endlessly in a corner
doing minute things. And perhaps, one day,
more or less by accident… …after digging away and brushing
with your toothbrush for ages… …you find a diamond. But people who come here and
ask to work on ‘important problems’… …don’t belong here. You have ten students
or PhD candidates… …whom you see every day, more often
than your own family, so to speak. Literally, in my case, because
I only talk to my kids once a week… …because they’ve gotten older. So I work with
these students every day. But the questions and problems
we talk about are physics-related. I don’t meddle in their private lives.
– You know nothing about them? So a culture of stardom in science. It’s not that different
from the football world. I see lots of parallels with
the hierarchy in the football world. The scoring, the transfers.
It’s very similar to the football scene. Some people pass the ball,
some shoot it in, there are trainers… For a people that are known
to be anti-social… …science students are often in
the company of fellow species. In contrast to Humanities students,
research is often a joint venture. During the coffee break
on Monday morning… …it’s time for lighter
conversation topics. Such as the correlation between
schizophrenia and the quantum brain. Politics are also discussed,
with its love for valorisation. The love for transforming knowledge into
appealing products and useful services. The government created a project
to support the lecturers. Thanks to
the National Science Agenda… …scholars are encouraged
to summarise their research goal… …in a limited number of questions. It’s customary in Leiden
to accommodate mathematicians… …along with chemists and physicists. They are also sent to the edge of town.
This actually has plenty of advantages. Why are you in the Science Lab? We get more money here per student
than we’d get in the Arts Department. You’re profiting…
– Scandalous, I know. …from the generous funds
that go to physics and astronomy. Don’t call professor emeritus
Hendrik Lenstra a scientist. I don’t like the wordwetenschapper
because I’m a baby boomer. Everything that sounds
remotely Germanic…Wissenschaftis a Germanism, isn’t it?
– Yes, absolutely. There, I said it. And there’s a good Dutch word for it.
– Scholar. And don’t call him a mathematician either. In other languages, it’smathématique
in French, or ‘mathematics’. The Dutch have their own word for it:
wiskunde. The knowledge of what is certain. Of what iswis.
– What is certain. Nothing stands in Lenstra’s way
of living for science. If you do that, it makes you happy.
– Seriously? No retirement, no family, no parties.
– I hate parties. No beginning, and no end. Maths often takes place
at indefinite moments. When you’re brushing your teeth,
or having a long walk. You don’t fit the stereotypical image
I have of a mathematician. Forgive me, but you look more like
the decent mayor of a neat town. That’s not the image I have of scientists
which seems to be accurate. Scientists just seem
to lack certain skills. Social intelligence.
– I know what you mean. You don’t need social intelligence
to prove a good hypothesis. Every mathematician knows that if you
solve a big problem, your career is made. Even if you’re bad at guiding students…
– Or have bad body odour… That’s all.
– But that can be trained. We have more managers than we like,
but they do serve a purpose. If your clothes smell, they tell you. Do you scientists have the idea… …that you are cleverer than the others.
Than the humanists, at least? Humanists don’t really count at all.
– I see. I’m talking about sociology,
political science, anthropology. I’d rather not say too much
out of politeness. I’ve always felt that
the respect for a fellow scholar… …is largely determined, in my case… …by the question: Can he do something
that I deem to be worthwhile? I have that with many Arts scholars,
but rarely with a humanist. The maths professor has little patience
for issues like status and competition. His colleagues and students
are his companions-in-arms… …in the battle against material. They all put forward their expertise. And the aim of the battle:
Will it benefit the common citizen? Don’t ask the professor about that. On the third of October at seven a.m.
a signal is given to awaken the troops. TheReveille. Every year, the troops are ready
to celebrate… …Leiden’s liberation from the Spanish
occupants over 400 years ago. It’s a communal celebration of the
indigenous people, theLeienaren… …and the university folk,
theLeidenaren. The simpleLeienaarpronounces
the wordreveilledifferently. Out of respect for them,
the Leidenaar also says:Revellye. The university folk has pushed
its figurehead forward… …to share the balcony
with a multitude of dignitaries. Mr Stolker, do you always do this?
– Yes, always. Ever since I was a student. Not here, of course.
This is for the dignitaries. The rector is well-suited for this,
being bothLeidenaarandLeienaar. You are an originalLeienaar.
– Yes, born and bred here. Are you now here
in your position as rector? I am here in my capacity as rector,
perhaps not in my position. Many of his predecessors
dreaded this day… …when the rector magnificus
is lured out of his comfortable office… …and parades through the city. Far from the world of science
and insight, amongst the city folk. And smiling all the while.
Rector Stolker has no problem with it. He happily accepts
what is expected of him. After all, the celebration is linked to
the foundation of his university. Today we celebrate the Siege
of Leiden on 3 October 1574. A few months later the university
was founded, as thanks. Historians disagree… …whether or not William of Orange
gave the university to Leiden as thanks. This city with its determined people… …united by proud songs
which the rector sings with gusto. Whether he likes it or not, he will
be present at the herring tasting… …the food the beggars brought when
they freed the hungryLeienaren. It’s rather moreish. That’s good, because further on in the
city, the next meal is being prepared. Many colleagues, many students.
More and more. Some of them have pulled an all-nighter.
They’re only just arriving. I see very few jackets and ties.
– Look closely, they are there. The next stop is
the Bastion of Minervans… …the Leiden student society that
cherishes its notorious reputation. The rector magnificus is a welcomed
guest at the Minerva Society. But he was never a member. In my day, a regular Leiden boy
didn’t join Minerva. Of all Leiden students,
the Minervans are the most pitied. They’re ridiculed for their appearance.
The university is a bit ashamed of them. They are constantly divided
between brains and bravado. But even amongst them,
one day lecturers will emerge. You’ve caught us on a morning… …where there’s a lot
of confusion and mess. It’s normally different?
– Yes, it’s always spic and span. This 17th century house has
belonged to students 100 years or so? Yes, 115 years. All members of Minerva. There’s a squashed banana on the floor.
– That was part of the opening act. Do you suspect
any of your housemates… …will make it all the way to lecturer? There’s one guy who could make it far.
He’s studying at his parents’ place now… …because of the festivities in Leiden. So he chooses to stay with his parents
on 3 October to study? Yes, he’s studying as we speak. A privilege many a professor longs for
is the academic hermit’s life. Professor dr. Holger Gzella
speaks Aramaic and Hebrew. What do you believe to be
the essence of science? Essentially it’s an infinite realm
of beauty and truth… …that hides behind the swamp
of nonsense and games… …swindle and blundering. What is this truth?
– It’s not freely accessible. But I do think that beneath everything
there is truth. An absolute truth?
– I think so, yes. As I said, it’s not freely accessible.
But I’m convinced it exists. How can you say about Aramaic or
Hebrew that it holds an essential truth? In Humanities there is hardly
ever evidence. Or very rarely, in an unfinished form. You could have said:
Science has to be falsifiable. Measure what can be measured.
Evidence is required. I don’t think that at all.
That’s just one aspect of it. But it’s not the core of knowledge.
In Humanities it’s mostly about… …a chain of experiences
that are analysed through reflection. You don’t seem like someone… …who enjoys the student life
that goes on here in Leiden. It doesn’t appeal to you?
– Not at all. Why not? I like solitude, peace and quiet.
I lead a hermit’s life. Do you have a family?
– No. Is that a conscious choice?
– Yes. What would happen
if you were to marry? I’m not an easy man, and the women
who like me aren’t either. That leads to explosive constellations. But in theory,
perhaps a truly intellectual woman… Heavens, no. I wouldn’t want that. There has to be some counterbalance. The ambitions, talking about the deans.
Not a good idea. Anyway, I’m happy
with the way things are now. There’s the image of the ‘ivory tower’
often used as a caricature. But for me it has
positive connotations too. Science also slow down the acceleration
process in social discussions. Nuances, reflection… Especially since science
is being increasingly defined… …by economic measures,
this leads to acceleration, growth. Economic relevance and progress. Science offers the necessary
counterbalance. And in the interest
of science and society… …it’s better that we leave you alone
in your ivory tower. It’s important to me that you ask
for my opinion now and then. But there are certain conditions
for this type of work. A bit less acceleration,
less hustle and bustle. Not too many phone calls. Well, that’s easily solved
by unplugging it. I assume you don’t have a mobile? A joyous moment
within the academic community… …is the day a new professor is born. I’m supposed to keep
my cap on upstairs, right? The ritual begins… OK guys, see you in an hour. …when the professor-to-be
says goodbye to the family. All right? Good luck. She is then received
by the rector magnificus… …for an intimate meeting
with lecturers from her faculty… …and any other lecturers
who wish to attend. You graduated in two fields:
Dutch Law and Dutch Literature. The rector sums up
all the merits that have led… …to the person in front of him
becoming a professor. Your research is highly relevant
in criminal law. You are a regular author for… …extensive experience
in lectures and tutorials… …you are highly valued
by our students… Lastly, it’s a traditional duty… …for the rector to warn against
the dangers of professorship. First of all, the notorious
absent-mindedness. Tradition begs me to ask you if you know
where the text of your inauguration is. I know that.
– One last academic warning: Always cherish the five cardinal virtues
of scientific integrity… …in other words,
in your research and teaching… …always remain diligent, reliable,
accountable, impartial and independent. Thank you. After her inauguration, there she is:
The new professor. During the celebration of the birth year
of the university, theDies Natalis… …she can now join
the parade of scholars. Not in front yet, as the years of service
determine the hierarchy. Check your position, guys. He didn’t sign up. Now the professor is ready
to be involved in policy, management… …education and of course research. That beneficial plunge
into the depths of marginality…. …which is still full of mysterious,
often unnoticed issues… …such as the algebra
of square-root expressions… …or the origin of the article
in Semitic languages. Or the topic of Hello Kitty and the
quality of cuteness in Japanese culture. Or the logic circuits
of the quantum computer. And let’s not forget the typographical
white in modern poetry. May all professors maintain
the time and space to ponder them. Even if it takes place mainly
in the evenings and weekends. Thank you for watching this video.
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