Everyone Professor also means Not Everyone Professor

Everyone Professor also means Not Everyone Professor

In March 2023, during the induction of new members into De Jonge Akademie (DJA), Marie-José van Tol, the former chair of DJA, declared the upcoming year as the Iedereen Professor jaar (Everyone Professor year).

Everyone Professor aims to ensure equitable recognition for academics engaged in similar tasks, particularly those involved in guiding PhD trajectories. Assistant Professors (UDs) and Associate Professors (UHDs), who often bear significant responsibility for a PhD student's journey—from securing funding to daily mentorship—are typically not sufficiently recognized and rewarded at the end of the PhD trajectory. This lack of recognition extends to both ceremonial and formal aspects; at many institutions, they are not permitted to wear a ceremonial gown nor are they formally recognized as the main supervisors (promotoren).

Everyone Professor aims to ensure equitable recognition for academics engaged in similar tasks

The Everyone Professor initiative advocates for Assistant Professors and Associate Professors who perform tasks equivalent to those of Full Professors (Hoogleraren) in the context of PhD supervision, to be afforded the same privileges. These include the right to wear a toga during PhD defenses, serve on thesis reading committees, use the Professor title, and, ultimately, be endowed with the Right to Promote (Ius Promovendi).

From a personal standpoint, I must admit that my initial reaction to the Everyone Professor concept (following Kees Storm's oratie and initiatives from WO in Actie) was skepticism. Questions like “Can everyone really be a Professor?” and “Are togas and titles truly significant?” crossed my mind. However, the Right to Promote element of the initiative did strike a chord with me. It wasn’t long before I noticed that my colleagues (UDs and UHDs) had varying degrees of connection to the different facets of the Everyone Professor initiative, underscoring the importance of its diverse elements. Some colleagues operate in environments with pronounced hierarchies, which are further exacerbated by the exclusive use of togas by Full Professors at academic ceremonies. Additionally, in certain disciplines, the title of Assistant Professor does not carry the same international weight as it does in the Netherlands, posing a challenge for some colleagues seeking international recognition by their peers.

In my experience, reactions to the Everyone Professor initiative have varied widely. Full Professors, in particular, have sometimes perceived it as a challenge to their status or a departure from academic tradition. Viewing tradition as a justification can be problematic, considering the many traditions that have been discontinued for various reasons. Nonetheless, the defensiveness from Full Professors is somewhat understandable, given that discussions around Everyone Professor often include implicit or explicit critiques of their role. Many of these debates, in my opinion, have been based on misunderstandings.

The initiative's impact over the past year has been notable. A significant number of Full Professors have come to support the initiative, leading to changes at many universities that now allow all participants in PhD graduations to wear togas. There is also growing momentum towards granting the Right to Promote more broadly.

Extending the Right to Promote must include a thorough evaluation of supervisory capabilities

This brings me to my clickbait title: discussions around the Everyone Professor frequently touch on key issues such as responsibility, supervising skills, mentorship, and training. Given the pivotal role of supervision quality during the challenging journey of a PhD, the Everyone Professor initiative, and particularly the Right to Promote, cannot be universally applied. Not all faculty members, whether Assistant or Associate Professors, are suited to provide the level of guidance necessary for a successful PhD experience. Extending the Right to Promote must therefore include a thorough evaluation of supervisory capabilities, along with provisions for training and mentorship. In cases where faculty lack the necessary skills and qualities for PhD supervision, the Right to Promote should be withheld. Of note, historically, the Right to Promote has been automatically conferred upon Full Professors, often without a specific assessment of their supervisory abilities. Moving forward, I believe it is crucial that the conferment of the Full Professor title also encompasses a more comprehensive evaluation of a candidate's capabilities in supervision.

Broadening the Right to Promote offers several benefits. It addresses moral and ethical concerns about the wrong portrayal of roles within supervisory teams, increases the pool of qualified supervisors for PhD students, and eliminates the need to include team members solely for formal reasons. Crucially, it enables universities to acknowledge and reward Assistant and Associate Professors irrespective of a department's financial status, as the professorial title and role become separate from specific job profiles. This, however, necessitates a clear, up-to-date, and transparent definition of job profiles to ensure they remain meaningful and valued beyond PhD supervision responsibilities.

Read more about ‘Everyone Professor’ here.