Friday, 27 June 2014

Fancy-Pants Dutch Defence

OK, there was an actual official reason for me to be here in the Netherlands, and that was to be the "Highly Learned Opponent" for Koen Levels's Ph.D. defence at the VU Amsterdam. The Dutch have the fanciest and most formal defences hands-down. And yes, the candidate actually addresses me by that title after I ask a question! The 4-5 opponents, in addition to the "promoter" and "co-promoters" all are dressed in white shirt, black tie, and formal gowns. The event is in the main auditorium and the beadle leads us in an procession complete with mace. Then exactly at one hour, she comes back and drags us all out.
After we proceed onto stage, the candidate gives a presentation for 10 min. We then move to the front of the stage and the "Opponents" then share the remaining 50 min of questions. First before the defence, we all meet in the boardroom, and the Dean begins with reading a biblical verse about teachers. We then discuss our planned questions and get our instructions. As you can see, Koen and his two proxies (doesn't have to be academics) all dress up in tuxedos with tails.

George Havenith from Loughborough University and me. Oh yes, we also start our questioning with the opener "By the virtue of the rector magnificus and by my right..." Of course, my favourite part of the whole ceremony comes afterwards, when the candidate hosts a reception for everyone. Then later that night, we were invited to a private fancy dinner. And my own students don't believe me when I tell them I evaluate all defences based on the catering!