The campus: an experiment in the woods, led by Campus Dean Jan Schuijer

the campus: an experiment in the woods, led by Campus Dean Jan Schuijer

In the early 1960s, the former country estate of Drienerlo was transformed into the proving ground for a daring experiment: a technical college (‘technische hogeschool’) based on the American residential system – which is to say, with a campus that combined living, studying, working ... and partying.

The idea behind the campus university was that the day-to-day contact between students and academic staff should have a positive effect on students’ academic development, and that the personal responsibility students took on in managing the campus would be a formative experience for them. If only the founders had known...

In the years following the founding of the University of Twente, when it was still called Technische Hogeschool Twente (‘Twente Technical College’), students were required to live on campus. Chemist Gerrit Berkhoff (1901–1996), the first rector magnificus of the technical college, saw the opportunity to live on campus as ‘a student’s privilege’. Because students were not yet out and participating in society, but rather lived a separate life on the campus during their years of study, they had the peace and quiet to focus all their energy on preparing to take on their future social responsibilities. When Professor Jan Schuijer was appointed Campus Dean, he was tasked with leading the experiment.

The idea was that giving students significant personal responsibility would bring about harmony on campus ... but instead what it mostly caused was conflict. Jan Schuijer did his very best to make things run smoothly, a particular challenge in the 1960s when debate was more of an end than a means and meetings could often drag on till long past midnight. Over time, opinion has shifted about the way Schuijer fulfilled his role. Especially in those first few years, students would definitely have described the Campus Dean as strict. But now, looking back, alumni remember an accessible, friendly man who was keen to involve himself with the students and who put his heart and soul into making student self-government work.

Professor Jan Schuijer would later become Dean of the Chemical Engineering faculty, a position he would fill until he retired in 1986, and even in retirement he made sure he kept up to date with all the developments at the university. Until 2013, when his health made it impossible, he presented the Schuijer Cultuurprijs (Culture Prize) every year to a student who had combined remarkable cultural achievements with their studies. He passed away in 2018, at the age of 96.

It wasn’t only the student self-government that caused a lot of discussion; the requirement to live on campus was another common talking point. Right from the start, as far back as 1961, voices were raised in favour of abolishing that requirement. Those voices won the day in 1974, but although living in town quickly became more popular, the campus community endured. The University of Twente is still the biggest campus-based university in the Netherlands, with student residences, faculty buildings, staff accommodation, sports and cultural facilities and even shops all in one place. The campus is a cosy ‘village’ where studies are combined with working and living and where the different academic disciplines seamlessly come together, making it the ideal breeding ground for promising exchanges and new ideas – and for student self-government.

In large part thanks to the efforts of Jan Schuijer, the experiment in the woods has been a tremendous success. Well, apart from that on-campus housing requirement...

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