Everyone Professor!

Title, professorial gown, and the doctoral degree conferral right – for university lecturers, senior lecturers, and full professors

In Dutch

At Dutch universities, assistant professors [universitair docenten, ud’s] and associate professors [universitair hoofddocenten, uhd’s] largely have the same duties as full professors [hoogleraren], but they don’t have the same rights. With its “Everyone Professor!” campaign, The Young Academy advocates separating the rights regarding PhD supervision from the job profile of hoogleraar and granting these rights to all ud’s and uhd’s as well. This requires in practice that every ud, uhd, or hoogleraar will be entitled to wear a professorial gown (in Dutch a toga), hold the title of “professor”, serve on dissertation-assessment committees (at their own and other universities), can vote on whether to award the distinction of cum laude, and if appropriate, confer the degree of “doctor” on the PhD candidates they supervise.

Although this proposition is gaining increasingly widespread support, it has not been consistently implemented at Dutch universities. Therefore, The Young Academy has now placed the ball firmly in the court of the universities and faculties. With the present practical guide, we hope to encourage the discussion of this issue within the academic community on the road to “Everyone Professor!” The system we propose is already allowed for in the relevant Dutch legislation. And given that numerous experts and academic managers are also in favour, we think it’s high time to turn an endorsed idea into actual practice.

This guide provides:

This guide is intended to facilitate a broad discussion within the academic community about “Everyone Professor!”. We’d therefore like to hear how that discussion is proceeding within the various universities and faculties.

What is the current situation regarding PhD supervision rights?

Academic staff at Dutch universities are largely divided into three hierarchical job levels (with two sub-levels within them): assistant professors (“ud’s”), associate professors (“uhd’s”) and full professors [hoogleraren]. (There are also teaching and research roles, but we’ll not go into them here.) Although staff in all these positions basically hold a doctorate, teach independently, and set up and conduct their own line of research, in the Netherlands only a hoogleraar or adjunct hoogleraar may use the title of “professor”.

Hoogleraren have by default a number of formal and informal rights and powers that ud’s and uhd’s do not have:

  • The right to confer the degree of “doctor”, i.e., the ius promovendi. Although ud’s and uhd’s may by law hold the ius promovendi, it is currently granted to only a limited group of uhd’s and a few ud’s (see this report). There are conditions involved regarding the successful acquisition of research funds and previous supervision of PhD candidates.
  • Membership of dissertation-assessment committees or doctorate committees (the rules vary from one university to another).
  • Professorial gowns: it is only hoogleraren (and adjunct hoogleraren) who are permitted to wear their professorial gown at official academic ceremonies.
  • Inaugural address: it is only hoogleraren who, after being appointed to their chair, can deliver an inaugural address in which they present their line of research.
  • Hoogleraren carry greater weight when it comes to assessing scientific quality, even if they do not have the greatest expertise in assessing particular PhD candidates or their dissertation.  A doctorate committee must consist of a minimum number of hoogleraren, and at a number of universities it is only hoogleraren who have a vote in assessing whether to award the distinction of cum laude.

Equal duties means equal rights

In terms of teaching, research, and research supervision, ud’s, uhd’s, and hoogleraren do the work that is comparable as regards its actual substance. They are all experts in their own field, are expected to acquire grants, lead projects, give substance to a line of research, act as a peer reviewer for articles and grant proposals, teach, ensure quality and scientific integrity, and design and supervise PhD programmes. Nonetheless, there are major differences in the rights they practice. As noted above, a hoogleraar may, for example, wear his or her professorial gown on official occasions, deliver an inaugural lecture, supervise PhD programmes independently, assess the quality of dissertations, and bestow the title of “doctor” on the candidate at the conferral ceremony.

The Young Academy finds it strange that these differences exist between what you actually do and what you are entitled to do. With the same duties (supervising) should come the same rights (conferring doctorates). This is why The Young Academy advocates for “Everyone Professor!” i.e. separating the rights associated with PhD programmes and academic ceremonies from the job profile of hoogleraar. In practical terms, we propose that every ud, uhd, or hoogleraar may wear a professorial gown, hold the title of “professor”, serve on dissertation-assessment committees (at their own and other universities), vote on whether to award the distinction of cum laude, and, if appropriate, confer the degree of “doctor” on their own PhD candidates. After all, “credit where credit’s due”.

Mind you, “Everyone Professor!” is not a plea for overall levelling out or the absence of opportunities for promotion or career paths. What we are saying is: retain job levels and allow people to progress through them based on transparent and independent assessment. “Everyone Professor!” encourages universities, faculties, and the academic community to think about opportunities for promotion and how we shape the hierarchies of duties and responsibilities. 

The Young Academy sees “Everyone Professor!” as an important step towards a more balanced and healthy academic climate, in which academics of all ages and with diverse experiences and backgrounds are assessed according to their merit and abilities, and less on the basis of titles. This links up seamlessly with the ongoing debate around the Recognition and Rewards programme. With “Everyone Professor!” ”, we can make optimum use of the expertise available within our universities by facilitating more appropriate supervision and assessment.

Surely this isn’t a new idea?

“Everyone Professor!” isn’t a new idea: in the United States and many of our neighbouring countries, the various “cosmetic differences” (title, gown, ius promovendi) are absent and everyone is a professor. Even in the Netherlands, there were no such differences until the 1970s. The proposition has been emphasized and supported by many in the Netherlands over the past ten years, for example by Kees Storm in his inaugural address in 2018, by Rens Bod, Remco Breuker and Ingrid Robeyns (members of the WOinActie campaign) in their 40 propositions concerning science, Jan Smits in the NRC Handelsblad newspaper, and Hieke Huistra in the Trouw newspaper. We too, in our “Everyone Professor!” project, have been objecting for quite some time to the artificial differences in authority between academics within the Dutch system – a plea embraced by the President of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

What problem does “Everyone Professor!” solve?

We believe that the cosmetic differences – title, gown, ius promovendi – are by no means innocuous. Following on from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences’ report on Social safety in Dutch Academia, the Advisory Committee on Diverse and Inclusive Higher Education and Research of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science recommends reducing the hierarchical structure, including by extending the ius promovendi to all ud’s and uhd’s. Removing the cosmetic differences can help flatten out this hierarchical structure, thus creating a more socially safe climate in which younger academics dare to speak out without fear of the consequences if hoogleraren disagree with them. That will be particularly the case if the automatic selection of hoogleraren for membership of working groups and committees is also abandoned and policy- and decision-making becomes more inclusive. At this moment, several things are associated “by custom or usage” with the position of hoogleraar. For instance, membership of administrative bodies is often reserved for hoogleraren, and many faculties and departments have an informal council of hoogleraren that advises on faculty or department policy. Although this will not automatically change when every faculty member obtains equal rights, it is worth realising that this customary right affects policy- and decision-making processes within our universities.

In addition, “Everyone Professor!” contributes to solving the 'symbolic scarcity' that has been created because the title, gown and other rights regarding PhD supervision are linked to the job profile of hoogleraar. In many faculties there are only limited career opportunities for ud’s and uhd’s. Not because they do not perform sufficiently, but because the current 'job classification system' offers insufficient room to grow to the next job profile. By introducing 'Everyone Professor!” ', ud’s and uhd’s - who in reality take on all tasks and would be eligible for promotion if there are sufficient positions - are also given the opportunity to share and demonstrate their substantive capacities and expertise. The latter is also relevant in an international context, for example when applying for European scholarships. Having not the title of professor is then seen as a sign of inexperience, while this is not an accurate representation of the experience of the ud or uhd.

We also expect that implementing “Everyone Professor!” will make the Netherlands more attractive for talented academics. That’s because when assessing the “academic climate”, researchers (including those from abroad) attach great importance to the quality of the environment they will find themselves in and its openness, opportunities for advancement, and guarantee that they can develop independently as regards teaching and research. Being dependent on a hoogleraar does not reflect that desired independence and freedom to initiate and conduct independent research.

But above all, “Everyone Professor!” will increase job satisfaction because a larger part of the academic staff will have the opportunity to supervise PhD candidates and to be acknowledged for doing so. The proud moment when the doctorate is conferred is then the icing on the cake, so to speak.

News message Everyone Professor 

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