when your’e young, You get annoyed by old farts telling you how everything used to be better

It is remarkable that this magazine is already 60 years old and has reached 300 issues. This means that Rostra is (even) older than I am and that I have been reading it for more than half of my life. I congratulate everyone involved and wish you many more successful years.

The topic of nostalgia is well chosen.
It is easy to become more nostalgic with age. When you’re young, you think everything is great and can only get better. You get annoyed by old farts telling you how everything used to be better. But as you get older, your stock grows of good memories of things that used to be and you wonder why they no longer occur. You think more and more that everything used to be better.

But, how accurate is this? Are we selective in what we choose to remember? To find out, I will use this column to first list all of the things at the FEB that I remember being better in the past. Then, I will analyze how accurate my memory actually is. This gives my top 5 walks down memory lane. I first started working at the FEB (then called FEE) in 1984. These memories are therefore based on 30 years of experience :-|.

So, I remember the old days, when:

  • Students were engaged in society and wanted the study of economics to help them contribute to their cause. They supported Marx, Lenin, Mao, Thatcher, Reagan, Keynes, Hayek or some other god. They cared. Nowadays, students are passive and care only about the next exam.
  • For researchers, there was no publication pressure. You were not asked to score publication points to earn research time. This allowed you to carefully think about research and the deeper meaning(s) of what you were doing. Nowadays, it’s like working in a factory, needing to publish one paper after the other in
    a minimum of time.
  • The dean was one of us. Every five years or so, one of the professors was appointed to be dean. (S)he knew everyone and was acquainted with the department’s history. Nowadays,
    a stranger walks in every five years (sometimes less) and changes everything because (s)he feels (s)he needs to leave a mark.
  • Promotion was based on seniority. Staying with the department over time was rewarded with promotion. To become an associate professor, you needed to stay long enough. To become a professor, you needed to wait for the chair holder to leave or die. Nowadays, anyone can be promoted.
  • The UvA bureaucrats supported the faculty. If you felt that you needed something to do your work better, they did what they could to help you. Nowadays, bureaucrats think that they know what’s best. They read something about how it’s done in business and copy that to the UvA, without caring whether it supports teaching or research.

But when I really think about it:

  • Students were engaged in anything but studying. Quite a few took more than 10 years to finish. Nowadays, students care about the field of study and finish much quicker.
  • There was no check on what people did in their research time. Very few researchers published. Nowadays, excellent research is done.
  • The dean mainly supported her/his own group. (S)he minimized effort spent on management. The FEB was poorly managed. Nowadays, deans have a plan. You may disagree, but at least they manage.
  • Good people left because their career did not progress. We had various professors without a PhD. Nowadays, promotion is based much more on merit.
  • Hmmm… this one actually did use to be much better.