This is not about me


Someone recently wrote in Cursor that we shouldn’t check our e-mail so often during the evening. Had I followed that advice last week, I would have missed the e-mail from the TU/e at 7:02 p.m. stating a permanent contract will not be an option for the coming eighteen, possibly sixty, months, because I am a man. Now that’s a first.

It feels like that time I was dumped via MSN - cold and distant. Obviously, there are other places where I can work, but for someone with the motto "those who can't appreciate Eindhoven, can't appreciate life," this measure is an extra threshold in the already tight academic job market. The adage that you as a scientist just have to travel around the world for five to ten years and turn your life upside down for short contracts until you finally get a bit of certainty: f*ck off!

‘F*ck off’ was my initial response. However, about twelve hours after the e-mail, my emotions had settled like dry peat soil. Although the quota concerns me, for the first time it is not about ‘me’: the man misses out once. While the door to the TU/e now slams in my face, there has been a note hanging at the women's entrance for hundreds of years stating ‘door is stuck’.

That an emeritus TU/e professor in Eindhovens Dagbblad fluttered with a rag of ‘facts’ that women rarely have won a Nobel Prize (and therefore, Q.E.D., most women are inferior in terms of IQ), shows that the quota makes sense. There are better women in the labor market than men who do not understand the difference between correlation and causation, which has been extensively described and discussed by those women. Watch a movie, Henk: Hidden Figures. Or read about female scientists whose work was awarded with a male Nobel Prize: Vera Rubin, Chien-Sieng Wu, Rosalind Franklin, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Esther Lederberg or Lise Meitner - all victims of a male academic world.

You can comment on the chosen method (exclusion against bias), about the chosen inclusiveness (only for people with an F-mark in their passport), but I have to admit: it is brave that the TU/e tries to do something. Even though not all women are looking forward to this kind of support, let each woman decide for themselves whether they want such a job (spoiler: yes some do).

Still, I want to urge the TU/e to address this properly. The university council has already made a nice list, which suggests to train TU/e staff against their bias. However, this should not only be passed on to the new generation. It would qualify as laziness to see this as an 'end-of-pipe' problem: the fact that the TU/e dangles at the bottom of all male-female lists implies that the culture here is too masculine. You can't just take on 150 outsiders and hope that they solve the insiders' problems: the old men who caused this, can stay where they are, and that bothers me.

At least I enter the academic job ring. The next twelve months I will do research in Norway for the Niels Stensen Fellowship. I hope to return to the TU/e, and that it will be a fairer university. It may not be a permanent job: there is a text on the whiteboard in my office, refering to Jan Wolkers’ book Turks Fruit: "Do you know that joke of the scientist with a permanent job? He didn’t have one."

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