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ProParte: for all professors at Leiden University and their partners

To bring all the professors at all the faculties together and keep their relationship with the University alive. This is the mission of ProParte, the association of Leiden professors and their partners. New members are welcome. The new ProParte website has recently been launched.

ProParte has 535 members, but is aiming to increase its visibility and acquire more members.  Since the merger of the two previously separate organisations (more on this to follow), it is becoming more common for professors and their partners to come to events together. The activities are the core of the association. 'We aim to organise a major activity once or twice a year for 100 to 150 people, such as a lecture programme, for example, as well as a number of smaller-scale activities,' Caesar Sterk explains. Sterk is emeritus professor of Opthalmology, and chair of ProParte. Vice-Chair Adri Gittenberger-de Groot, emeritus professor of Anatomy and Embryology, commented, ‘The smaller activities are for a maximum of around twenty people and are generally oversubscribed.' 

Visit by ProParte to the Dutch Upper House where LUMC ethics specialist and former Vice-Chair of the Upper House Heleen Dupuis gave a talk on this political body.

From Upper House to  Amsterdam University of the Arts

Sterk explains that this is because these are generally special, high-quality activities, organised by an expert who is among the leading specialists in his or her field, and who puts a great deal of effort into making the activity a success: they generally call on somoeone from their own circle of professors to play a role in the activity.  One example is a recent talk and guided tour of the Upper House by LUMC ethicist Heleen Dupuis and former member of the Upper House. Sterk: ‘Having these contacts means you get to see places and hear things that you would never otherwise have access to.' Gittenberger-de Groot agrees.  The two then talked about visits to the Bibliotheca Thysiana, the Amsterdam University of the Arts (incl. attending a master's examination for the violin), the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, the Boerhaave Museum, all with top-class speakers and guides, and a very special lecture by Eline Slagboom about ageing.

Less pressure

The active members of ProParte are amost all emeriti professors but the association also welcomes members who are very much still busy in professional life. But is that feasible?  They are all incredibly busy doing research, teaching, managing, applyng for research subsidies and supervising younger colleagues. 'We don't think we'll be able to attract professors with young families or those who are at the peak of their careers,' both board members agreed. 'But it may bepossible when they're a little older and are under a little less pressure from their work.' Gittenberger-de Groot reiterates the aim of ProParte: there are a lot of professors at Leiden University, and membership of ProParte will perpetuate that connection. The atmosphere within ProParte is super.' 

Merger of VROLEC and HOLEC

ProParte is the result of a merger, at the start of 2017, between VROLEC and HOLEC. VROLEC was the association of spouses and partners of professors at Leiden University; HOLEC was the association of professors and university lectors (a post that no longer exists).  That division is way out of date, Gittenberger-de Groot commented when she was asked to be Vice-Chair. She was the only person at the time to be a member of both VROLEC and HOLEC but she made a merger a condition of joining the board.

pro parte Vrolec
The second performance in the Observatory of 'Het professoren-vrouwenkransje van 1828' (The circle of professors' wives of 1828) on 28 May 1929.

Staying at home to look after the children

VROLEC, known until the 1990s as the Dameskrans (Ladies' Circle), was by far the oldest. At the start of the twentieth century the association was formed with a group of wives of Leiden professors and lectors who wanted to be engaged in worthwhile activities.  Increasingly, these were educated women but once they had children, they stayed at home to look after them. And up until the 1960s women civil servants were simply dismissed once they married. The members of VROLEChad time for all kinds of cultural activities, setting up sub-associations on particular themes and organising the shared activities of HOLEC and VROLEC. Until recently they also organised the annual dinner following the Dies Natalis celebrations at the University. 

This is not the VROLEC swimming club but the gym club cooling off in the swimming pool of one of the members (ca. 1980).

Wave of democratisation

HOLEC started later. Sterk explains that HOLEC was set up after the senate - the body that comprised all the professors and was responsible for the daily management of the University under the leadership of the Rector Magnificus - lost its powers as a result of the University Governance Reorganization Act in 1970 (Wet Universitaire Bestuurshervorming, WUB). The WUB was an effect of the wave of democratisation in the 1960s. 'With the loss of these powers, the social function of the senate was also lost,’ Sterk explains. ‘The decision was taken to maintain these powers in the form of a new association: HOLEC.’ Incidentally, the Rector Magnificus still welcomes new professors 'to the senate', the body of professors. All the authorities of the former senate have transferred to the University Council. 

Maintaining University heritage

HOLEC never had a solely social function. From the outset, the professors also contributed to the maintenance of University - or University-related - heritage. Examples include the restorations of ancienet manuscripts in the University Library, the seats in the Bibliotheca Thysiana, the Flentrop organ in the Great Auditorium and the murals on the wall outside the Sweat Room.  ProParte has now taken over the role of guardian of the University's heritage. The latest project being supported by the association is the organisation of a room dedicated to the University in the newly renovated Lakenhal. 

A visit to the Japanese Garden at Clingendael, The Hague, after a lecture at the institute of the same name.

Member of VROLEC and HOLEC

Gittenberger-de Groot first joined VROLEC. When she herself became a professor, she also became a member of HOLEC. ‘Because she was the only person with a dual membership,' Sterk says, 'she was the best person to oversee the merger. She knows the cultures of both organisations extremely well. It was time to take into account that an increasing number of women professors were being appointed, many of whom also have a partner.' Gittenberger-de Groot realised that an association for the wives of professors, as VROLEC was, had no future. Professors' wives or partners now also work and often they have their own career. They no longer feel it is appropriate to be addressed as "the wife of...", so VROLEC got smaller and its membership became older.' Even so, when the merger occurred it was still a lively group of people, with a lot of activities, including in the sub-associations: a film club, gym club, walking club and a garden club. There were also two reading clubs, one of which focuses exclusively on reading ancient Greek. All of these have continued to exist within ProParte and are currently welcoming new members, both partners of professors and professors themselves. 

Membership fees are a very reasonable 22.50 euros a year.

If you would like to know more, please visit the new ProParte website.

Text: Corine Hendriks
Photography portrait Gittenberger and Sterk: Sean van der Steen
Photography Upper House and Clingendael: Caesar Sterk
Source of the photos from 1929 and 1980: Leidse Hoogleraarsvrouwen Een Eeuw Verenigd

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