Things to treasure...

Several academic gowns for PhD candidates
Pedel Rachel Doekhi in academische toga op het EMC
Capital images/Chris Gorzeman

With a history that goes back 110 years, Erasmus University Rotterdam is a comparatively young university. Both its tangible heritage and its traditions and protocols shed light on the university’s past. What can this heritage tell us about academic identity? Beadle Rachel Doekhi discusses changing gender ratios, while long-serving former EUR employee Cora Boele takes us through the university’s treasure room for a snapshot of university’s history. 

As one of our university’s beadles, Rachel Doekhi watches over academic traditions and customs in her daily work. For example, during ceremonies she leads the cortege of professors, holding the beadle’s staff in her hand. That plexiglass staff is relatively modern, dating back to 1973, when the university’s precursors merged to form Erasmus University Rotterdam. “Formally, the university was established in 1973, but we cherish its earlier history starting from the foundation of the Netherlands School of Commerce (Nederlandsche Handels-Hoogeschool, NHH). The old beadle’s staff of the School of Commerce hangs here.”

Colour differences

Look here, that’s the Erasmus Building. On the first floor, home to the Rector’s Room, the Gowns Room and the Senate Hall, there are sometimes three doctorate award ceremonies a day. Many portraits bring the university’s past to life. “The most recent addition is the gallery of photos of 72 female professors”, says Rachel. “You can clearly see that each faculty has different colours for the stole, beret and bib. Yellow for Economics and green for Medicine.” This difference in the colours of the academic dress is unique to EUR, Rachel explains, and sets it apart from other universities.

The Erasmus Building is also home to the Beadle’s Office. As the number of students and staff at the new university grew, the volume of administrative tasks related to ceremonies also increased. These tasks fell to the beadle and required a team effort. Whereas at the NEH, the beadle was a part-time position for a long time, EUR soon had one full-time and several part-time beadles. According to Rachel, planning and supervising doctorate award ceremonies took up most of the beadles’ time, and still does today. After all, obtaining the university degree of doctor by writing and publicly defending a dissertation is a cornerstone of academic practice.

. “A member of the Doctoral Committee having to be flown in is a thing of the past. They can now also attend by teleconference.”

Rachel Doekhi

Beadle at the EUR

Doctorate award ceremonies then and now

The first time a doctorate degree was awarded in Rotterdam was in 1918, five years after the Netherlands School of Commerce was founded, Rachel explains. “After that, doctorates were awarded at most six to eight times a year.” By comparison, more than 400 doctorates were awarded at EUR in 2023. Digitalisation has brought significant changes to both the nature and handling of the protocol. “The process of obtaining a doctorate now largely takes place through digital means.” That applies not only to the administrative handling of documents, but also to the ceremony, which during the coronavirus pandemic rapidly took on a hybrid character. “A member of the Doctoral Committee having to be flown in is a thing of the past. They can now also attend by teleconference.”

In 1963, when the university’s precursor, by then renamed to Netherlands School of Economics (Nederlandse Economische Hogeschool, NEH) was half a century old, the tally stood at 296 doctorates since 1918. Of these, five were conferred to women. The field of economics was a man’s world for a long time, Rachel explains. Women did not pursue doctorates because for decades they had hardly any job prospects as economists. “Willemien Van der Goot, after whom a building on the campus Woudestein is named, broke new ground in 1930. She was the first woman in the Netherlands to obtain a doctorate degree in economics.” It wasn’t until 1948 that a second woman received a doctorate, followed by a third in 1954. In 1956 and 1962, two ‘foreign ladies’ obtained their doctorate degrees – a rare occurrence at the time. “That was thanks to the efforts of Professor Jan Tinbergen, who established many international contacts as part of his work for the World Bank.” In the decade after 1963, when the new faculties of Social Sciences and Law were set up, only two more women received a doctorate degree, in economics and law respectively.

PhD ceremonies from our archive

A 1928 PhD ceremony at EUR
Archief Universiteits Bibliotheek Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam: doctorate from 1928
Tio Poo Tjang's PhD ceremony found in the archives
Archief Universiteits Bibliotheek Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam: Tio Poo Tjang's PhD doctorate

Changing times

Women formed a minority of the student body for a long time. In 1913, three of the seventy students starting at the NHH were women. “When the late politician and policymaker Neelie Kroes came here to study economics in 1958, the institution had 46 other female students”, Rachel says. “They had to hold their own against 1,580 men.” After 1963, this ratio began to shift. The merger of the Rotterdam Medical Faculty and the Netherlands School of Economics into Erasmus University in 1973 also increases the proportion of female students. “In 2013, when it celebrated its centenary, the university for the time had a balanced ratio of male and female students.”

Times change, in 2022, a new education building was named after Professor Henny Langeveld. She was affiliated with the Faculty of Social Sciences and in 1969 became the first female professor at the university. In 2023, a quarter of professors were women. “And since 2020, the rule is that every Doctoral Committee must have at least two female members”, Rachel says. For the first time, a female Rector Magnificus now holds the academic reins. “Moreover, she is also the first Rector Magnificus who did not previously have a position at one of the university’s own faculties. That’s also a break with the past.”


If anyone has a close connection to the university’s recent past, it is Cora Boele. In 1981, she enrolled into the brand-new History programme. “The lack of space on campus was so acute that we were moved into the Faculty of Medicine building.” Afterwards, she held various positions at the university. In her work at the University Historic Cabinet Foundation, she was jointly responsible for collecting, managing and presenting academic heritage from 2008 to 2020. In addition to objects such as the Rector Magnificus’ chain, beadle’s staff and portraits of professors from before 1973, the tangible heritage includes many documents, photographs and films. “In 2018, the entire collection was transferred to the University Library, which effectively serves as the university’s treasurer.”

Erasmus MC has its own heritage collection, Cora explains. “That includes objects and documents that were in the possession of the Rotterdam Medical Faculty before it merged with the Netherlands School of Economics. These include all kinds of medical instruments, for example, some of which were developed by staff themselves.”chuiven. Ook het samengaan van de Medische Faculteit Rotterdam en de Nederlandse Economische Hogeschool tot Erasmus Universiteit in 1973 doet het aandeel studerende vrouwen stijgen. “In 2013, bij de viering van het eeuwfeest van de universiteit, zijn de aantallen mannelijke en vrouwelijke studenten voor het eerst in balans.”

Group of EUR PhD candidates with a beadle staff
Capital images/Chris Gorzeman


The medals from the Netherlands Economic Medal Cabinet (Nederlands Economisch PenningKabinet, NEPK) form a special subset of the university’s collection. Cora: “Those medals, 2,700 in total, are all related to economic activities. They include medals depicting our namesake, Desiderius Erasmus.” The Erasmus Gallery has permanent exhibitions dedicated to this unique collection, which are shown in special touch-screen display cases. “You can find all the medals on the NEPK’s website.”

The Nobel Prize medal awarded to economist Jan Tinbergen in 1969 is also in the NEPK’s collection. A replica of the medal and other Nobel Prize attributes are exhibited in the Tinbergen display case in the former porter’s lodge of the Erasmus Building. “There is a permanent exhibition there on the history of EUR from 1913 to 2013, with interesting old footage, including one clip about the awarding of the Nobel Prize.”

Tinbergen vitrine


Jan Tinbergen’s legacy is an important part of the university’s heritage; it includes his working archive and working library. This Jan Tinbergen Collection is another special subset if the collection managed by the University Library. There is also the Rotterdamsch Leeskabinet (Rotterdam Reading Cabinet), which is separate collection dedicated to valuable books. Cora: “Rotterdamsch Leeskabinet was founded in 1859 to give citizens of Rotterdam access to good reading materials.” Besides literary works and numerous books on history and art, the Rotterdamsch Leeskabinet’s collection includes special atlases and many topographical maps of Rotterdam from the 17th to the 20th century. “In 1971, Rotterdamsch Leeskabinet was transferred to the University Library. Not everyone knows this, but university staff and students can check out books from the collection for free.”

Prestigious art

The university is also blessed with a modern art collection that is valuable in both cultural and financial terms. When campus Woudestein opened in 1968, there was a need for artworks that would fit in with the new indoor and outdoor spaces. Thanks in part to professor Piet Sanders, building dean of the Faculty of Law and private art collector, the items acquired included works by prominent artists such as Karel Appel, Lucebert and Co Westerik. With relatively cheap graphic works, bare new buildings could be easily spruced up initially. “However, some works became so valuable over time that they are now no longer taken out of storage”, Cora knows. The acquisition of modern art is a continuous process, she says, which is handled by a separate department for arts affairs, now named ‘Art Affairs Erasmus University’. “To this day, employees can get graphic artworks in their offices. That’s a great service, because there is a lot to choose from."

"Employees can get graphic artworks in their offices. That’s a great service, because there is a lot to choose from."

Cora Boele

EUR veteran

Monetary National Income Analogue Computer in het Theilgebouw
Capital images/Chris Gorzeman

Money like water
“An absolute showpiece in the heritage collection is the MONIAC device standing in the hall of the Theil building. MONIAC, Cora explains, stands for Monetary National Income Analogue Computer. Developed by economist William Phillips in 1949, the device uses flows of fluids to mimic the workings of Keynesian macroeconomic processes. “Different reservoirs connected by pipes represent different parts of an economic system. By selectively letting water flow from the ‘treasury’ tank through reservoirs – or pumping it back to the ‘treasury’ – and by varying the distribution of the water, a professor can show students how flows of money going into and coming out of different sectors in the form of investments, savings, expenditures and revenues relate to one other.” The device functions as an analogue computer that simulates and clearly visualises the impact of various economic variables on the economic cycle. “The Municipality of Rotterdam donated this ‘machine’ for educational purposes on the fortieth anniversary of the Netherlands School of Economics in 1953. It is likely that no more than fourteen were built. Seven are still known to exist, including two on display in museums abroad.”

More information

Erasmus University Rotterdam is celebrating its 110th anniversary. See how we celebrate!

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