Nightcaps and Ornaments. Some remarks on governing a Dutch university in the nineteenth century.
It is usually agreed upon that Dutch universities in the nineteenth century were badly governed. The system consisted of a board of governors (‘College van Curatoren’) which was appointed by the minister of education. The idea is generally held that as appointees of the government the board was a mere instrument of the state bureaucracy and the successive ministers. It is also common knowledge that this system of governors had a restraining influence on the development of Dutch universities. But why then was Dutch science so successful at the end of the nineteenth century? The case of the president of the board of Utrecht University W.C. Mees (president from 1869 till his death in 1885) and his secretary J.F.B. Baert (1875-1898) indicates that it was also possible that a board of governors acted efficiently and to the satisfaction of all participants. Since this article treats only one case, it is not meant to be conclusive, but it aims to open the discussion and stimulate further research into the topic of the governing of Dutch universities.