[Column] #JeSuisHerman

Maybe you missed it, but 18 months ago there was some commotion concerning a tweet by our former Rector Magnificus. Karel Luyben called Rianne Letschert “the most beautiful rector in the Netherlands”, further emphasising his remark with a couple of exclamation marks.

(Foto: Sam Rentmeester)

Read the original column in Dutch

That day, Rianne Letschert was inaugurated as Rector Magnificus in Maastricht, and she is indeed a beautiful woman. A nice compliment, nothing wrong with that, you would think.


Linguist at the UvA Jan Stroop  wondered: “Can he say something like that? Not all women appreciate that, I have noticed.” A clear case of mansplaining that not all women appreciate, I have noticed. Under this tremendous pressure, Karel carefully backpedaled: “You’ve got a point. I’m very glad that she’s on our council of university rectors, but I should have stated it differently.” He didn’t delete his tweet, which is commendable.

A trivial incident, you may say, but it was the harbinger of a modern crusade by rabid feminists and other troublemakers. Of course they are fully within their rights to air their opinion, but unfortunately it goes far beyond that. Because they want to silence those who think differently to themselves, scorn them and hang them from the highest tree. A recent incident illustrates this.

Architecture historian Herman van Bergeijk has been teaching at TU Delft since 1995. In February, he gave a lecture to an auditorium full of first-year students. The students were very rowdy, and Herman politely asked them to quiet down, making a couple of innocent jokes in the process. Someone who has no link to TU Delft labelled this incident on Twitter as ‘racism and sexism’ and accused TU Delft of not coming down on him hard enough.


(Translated: “Observe how TU Delft professor Herman van Bergeijk blatently reveals his racism and sexism to freshman students. His attitude is also ridiculously authoritarian. Do you know what punishment he received? He had to apologize during the next lecture. What a weak response from TU Delft.”)

TU Delft felt obliged to respond seriously to this ridiculous accusation with a tweet of its own:


(Translated: “TU Delft agrees that the professor’s statements were unacceptable. He has apologized sincerely during the next lecture and he was officially reprimanded. He has been discharged from delivering these lectures.”)

No fewer than 49 people responded to this apologetic tweet, all of whom were utterly amazed and highly indignant about the way someone who has been teaching for nearly twenty-five years had been hung out to dry: “No wonder there’s a shortage of teachers. This is a stab in the back”, “Is this my Alma Mater?”, “So you bow to pressure on Twitter for this? Have you no respect?”, and “I’m almost ashamed to be a TU Delft alumnus.” And these are just the more genteel responses.You can read all the responses here.

Among these responses were also TU Delft staff who are seriously concerned.


(Tranlated: “I teach mathematics at TU Delft. Occasionally, I too make a joke during my lectures. This incident frightens me because it reveals the vulnerability of a teacher. Is there an official document which describes our code of conduct?”)

And rightly so, because who will be the next lecturer to be tarred and feathered and handed an official warning? Teaching is already unpopular due to the high pressure of work and poor career prospects. If you add public humiliation and an increased risk of being fired to the equation, we might just as well replace all the lectures with MOOCs. Then students can stay nice and comfortable at home and we don’t need to invest in any more expensive teaching buildings.

Unfortunately, we have reached the end of my column, but not the end of this sad story. Things get even crazier in the third act, when the TU Delft Feminists enter the stage. You can read the full story here.



Note: This column was first published in Dutch on May 3rd. This translation is an extra service to readers of the letter TU Delft researcher Felienne Hermans wrote in response.

Also read this letter: ‘Yes, free speech’


Columnist Dap Hartmann

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