22 Mare 6 March 2003

Leiden University Weekly Newspaper - ENGLISH PAGES


Project against RSI
Leiden University is setting up a project to help its staff and students avoid RSI. Currently, all faculties and departments are making an inventory of existing problems. In 2001, there were 70 official cases of RSI among university staff members, and a total of 38 cases in 2002. The Faculty of Arts leads with 22 cases, followed by Mathematics & Natural Sciences, and Social & Behavioural Sciences, with 17 cases each. According to Tineke Stikkelman, the coordinator of the RSI project, the statistics probably do not reveal the actual number of people who have symptoms of RSI. "In our experience, people who report having RSI have usually had the symptoms for a long time." There are no statistics available for students. The RSI project aims to improve information flow, for example, emphasizing the correct working posture and the maximum daily number of hours that should be spent at a computer terminal. Moreover, office furniture will be inspected to determine if it is sufficiently adjustable; if not, it may be replaced.

Catering Talks
Students who protested against increases in canteen food prices will be involved in the Universitair Facilitair Bedrijf‘s (UFB) catering policy. The students had threatened "happenings" if the UFB did not clarify its reasons for raising food prices on January 1st. These threats have been provisionally dropped. The think-tank will meet three times a year to discuss issues, such as the refurnishing of a number of canteens, including the one in the Kamerlingh Onnesgebouw and in the Witte Singel-Doelen complex; the food selection available in canteens; and long-term plans for the catering services. In future, the UFB promises to improve communication with its customers.

New mayor
On March 11th, for the first time Leiden residents will be able to vote for the city‘s new mayor. On the recommendation of an advisory committee, the city council has put forward two candidates: Henri Lenferink, a Social Democrat (PvdA) and Harry Groen, a Conservative (VVD). During the past week, some students also had the chance to meet the campaigning candidates when they visited student apartments on the Rijn- en Schiekade for a cup of coffee and a chat with the residents. Candidate Lenferink even stayed overnight in a hall of residence and dined with the students ("macaroni with gunge"). "I really felt a bit like a student again," the PvdA member said afterwards. Leiden is the third Dutch town to hold a referendum for the election of a mayor.

Like student houses for professors

Foreign academics who come to Leiden for short-stays live in guest-houses where they must share kitchens, showers and toilets, just like in student houses. Well…almost like student houses. As one visiting academic remarked: "I haven‘t seen a dirty dish since I moved in!"

Maithe Hulskamp

"When I was a student, I lived in a hall of residence housing some 200 to 300 students," says Heilna du Plooy (55), Professor of Afrikaans and Dutch at Potchefstroom University in South Africa. "It‘s quite a difference from the room I‘m staying in now, although here too we share things like kitchen and bathroom. Then again, I‘m not a student anymore. I haven‘t even seen a dirty dish since I moved in!" The guest room Ms du Plooy is staying in is a luxurious one, complete with dining table, coffee table and settee, television plus video recorder and a large desk. On the cupboard next to the bed stands a little dead plant, which seems oddly out of place. "I meant to buy some fresh flowers on the market today," Ms du Plooy explains, "but I had too much to carry already."
The 5th Binnenvestgracht 7 is a small house now called the University Lodge, containing three study-bedrooms, and suitable for stays of several months or longer. It is sublet by the Leiden International Centre (LIC), an organisation which co-ordinates housing for university visitors at one of the four residences they own or rent: Rapenburg, Papengracht, Vreewijkstraat, and the 5th Binnenvestgracht. Founded in 1964 by a small group of professors‘ wives who wanted to help make foreign visitors feel more at home, LIC has now developed into a fully fledged accommodation office. "We only started using the Lodge in 2002," Annette Albers, manager of the International Centre, states. "It‘s situated in between various university buildings. I suppose you could say it‘s a small university village – most people in that area know one another." The location is indeed a good one, apparently even for royalty: Dutch Prince Constantijn lived at number seven long before it became the University Lodge.
Residing in the upstairs rooms are Vania Morelli (33), a hematologist from the Federal University of São Paulo in Brazil, and Konakov Valentin (56), a mathematician from the Central Economic Mathematical Institute of RAS in Russia. Their rooms are smaller than the one downstairs, more student-sized, if you like, but they are comfortable enough. Valentin‘s room looks out on the Hortus Clusianus. "I look right into the garden from my room," Konakov remarks. "The view is wonderful." Well furbished as the rooms are, they‘re still rather impersonal. "You‘re only allowed so much luggage on a plane," Ms Morelli explains. "I brought some study books because I had to, and my notebook, but I really miss my CDs."
The three occupants of the house don‘t see each other often, as their schedules are very different. Sometimes they meet in the kitchen, usually on weekends, when they spend more time ‘at home‘. "The kitchen more or less functions as a meeting place," Ms Morelli observes. But they hardly ever dine there, preferring the comfort of their own rooms. There is no student-like communal cooking, or having a cup of tea in a housemate‘s room. Yet, as we all stand in the upstairs hallway, the three residents of the house get talking, and it seems very possible that they‘ll interact more often in future. Perhaps Dutch student habits will be reinstated in the University Lodge, even if students no longer live there.

Take me to your Jewish leader

Now that I have had some time for reflection, during these unexpectedly exciting Dutch elections in January, one item of news particularly intrigued me: the potential rise of the Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen to the role of Prime Minister. The international press, both online and off, made much of his academic qualifications, his support of Dutch liberal traditions (he presided over Amsterdam‘s first legal homosexual marriage) and his ‘soft‘ approach to immigration. One feature was returned to time after time: his family‘s suffering during WW II at the hands of the Nazis on account of their being Jews. Should the Labour Party succeed, we were told, Cohen stood a good chance of becoming the first Jewish Prime Minister of the Netherlands.
The issue of Jewish politicians is a pertinent one, and when seen in comparative perspective, it becomes clear that the Netherlands lags behind its European neighbours. As French Jews emigrate to Israel in increasing numbers, it is easy to forget that in May 1936, France had a Jewish Prime Minister: Leon Blum. Blum was born in Paris on April 9, 1872, and went on to study law at the Sorbonne, where he became enamoured with socialism. His political career was fraught with tensions, not least the increasing militarisation of Germany, and his arrest was ordered by Henri-Philippe Petain after the German invasion. He was tried in February 1942 for betraying his country and was handed over to the Germans, who held him prisoner until the end of the war.
In Victorian Britain, an era continental Europeans usually think of as being imbued with anything but great tolerance and liberalism, the United Kingdom had its first and last Jewish Prime Minister. Benjamin Disraeli was Prime Minister in 1868, and again from 1874 to 1880. When Disraeli was a young boy, his father had a severe argument with his synagogue and consequently baptised all his children as Christians. If it hadn‘t been for this, Disraeli‘s career would have been altogether different, since Jews were banned from Parliament until 1858.
In the United States, the Democratic Party has never nominated a Jew to run for President. Henry Kissinger, a man whose principles couldn‘t be further from those held by our Mayor Cohen, holds the record so far as the Jew with the highest-ranking political distinction in America, and he was appointed by Richard Nixon.
Anyway, Amsterdam and New Amsterdam both have Jewish mayors. Talk about transatlantic symmetry.

Mark Turin
British member of the Leiden Research School CNWS