Prof. Inge Hutter: "I am not an advocate of producing knowledge just for the sake of producing knowledge"

Interview about the Erasmian values

She is the personification of the Erasmian values and therefore appointed as ambassador and academic lead at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Prof. Inge Hutter's task is to make the Erasmian values (even) more visible and to strengthen them, especially in leadership. Not from above, but together with administrators, colleagues and students. "We're not going to say, 'From now on, it has to be this way or that way.' Values are not norms, values are invisible, we can embrace them, understand them, discuss them. And internalize them."

Hutter is also rector and professor of participatory and qualitative research at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague. Trained as a demographer and cultural anthropologist, she has conducted research in India, Cameroon and Malawi. She says, "In my opinion, working at a university is fantastic. But I was always looking for more internationalization, and also more passion. By that I mean societal impact, yes. I don't really like just doing research for your peers. I always wanted to really do something or add something to society, for example by making sure research was translated into the local language. In addition, I believe in co-creation: doing research for and together with stakeholders in society. My own vision actually connects seamlessly to the Erasmian values."

Could you give an example?

"I am not an advocate of producing knowledge just for the sake of producing knowledge. My dissertation resulted in a translation into Kannada, a local Indian language, so that the people among whom the research was done and who it was about, could benefit from it. In addition, we worked with a local NGO to set up a health and nutrition education program for pregnant women. I worked together with the community and learned a lot from the knowledge they had, and I wanted to use my work to link up with that. Wanting to be socially relevant also fits well with ISS, it's in our DNA. At ISS we have been doing education and research with and for students from developing countries for years."

Which Erasmian values are formulated and why are they so important?

"The first one, engaged with society, fits perfectly with the goal of Strategy 2024: to create a positive, societal impact. For me, this value is very important. It also has to do with the transformation that all universities in the Netherlands want to make. Instead of working from the ivory tower, we want to be in society. The second value, entrepreneurial, is reflected in the history of our university, founded by the port barons. Being a world citizen, the third value, sometimes receives too little attention. I hope that we at ISS can contribute to this. The last two: connecting and open-minded are about how we deal with each other. An interesting question might be: during a meeting, for example with the Executive Board and Board of Deans, is there connecting and openness? Open-minded is about conducting a dialogue and whether we are open to people with a different perspective, for example people who work from a different paradigm or culture. In my role as ambassador I also look at initiatives that are already in place, such as Erasmus Verbindt, a student initiative. In part, these values are already very much alive at this university, and we just need to strengthen them by making them more visible."

"In part, the Erasmian values are already very much alive at this university, and we just need to strengthen them by making them more visible."  – Prof.dr. Inge Hutter

What does it entail: ambassador and academic lead Erasmian values?

"The idea is that these values become even more alive and define our identity even more. My mission is to put them down in leadership as well. By leadership, we mean both professional leadership, the management, and personal leadership. I collaborate with Professor Han van Ruler and Professor of Erasmian Values Ronald van Raak. Together we give workshops and investigate how these values can be shaped and supported within the university. Within the workshops I ask questions to the participants. In what way do people see the values reflected in their work, for example, engaged with society? Many people recognize this value, but it becomes visible in a different way. For example, it can be about sustainability, but also about social inequality. We have to discuss it with each other. And I ask people about their personal values. Are they missing things? At the top management level, it was noted that there could be a little more humor. That's obviously important to include."

Humor also fits well with the work of Erasmus.

"Yes, I think so too."

What is difficult, or will become difficult?

"Sometimes people say, 'Do I have to do that too?' As if they're getting an extra task. For example, the emphasis on working on social relevance. But I don't think we should see it as an additional task; it's about the way you do things in the first place. In any case, it is certainly not meant to be 'extra work'. It's about what we stand for, together. What we think is important."

What is the goal, when is your job as an ambassador and academic lead successful?

"For myself, I would say, I enjoy being able to contribute to the transformation of the university in this way. I also think it's high time we took this step. I don't know how far we will get in the years that I have this position. But I do know that it is incredibly important. It is important that we make a substantial contribution to society, and also work with the municipality and other stakeholders. We can combine the knowledge of the university with knowledge from society. Engaged with society to me also means working from the heart, with passion. I hope that in 2024 we can say: yes, we really have become a different university. That we can live up to what was actually there all along. We can start leading the way."

"Values are not norms, and values are invisible; they must be embraced, understood and discussed." – Prof.dr. Inge Hutter

How do you actually monitor the Erasmian values?

"We still have to think about that. Values are not visible, and difficult to measure. I think you can make values visible especially with qualitative research methods. But we can't just define the outcome in kpi's for example. Values become visible in stories, in how we do things together. That way we can create a strong EUR identity."

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