Smith College Admission Academics Student Life About Smith news Offices
Five College Calendar
Smith eDigest
Submit an Idea
News Archive
News Publications
Planning an Event
Contact Us
News & Events

Smith in the Netherlands: A Transatlantic Connection

Text and pictures by Peter I. Rose

Peter Rose, Sophia Smith Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Antrhopology, was the first chair of the International Advisory Committee of University College Utrecht and the Roosevelt Academy, Middelburg, both in The Netherlands, and both based on the Smith model.

If one believes that imitation is the best form of flattery, then members of the Smith College community should feel very flattered. Over the last 15 years two new English-language international honors colleges—University College Utrecht (UCU) and the Roosevelt Academy (RA)—have been established and are flourishing in the Netherlands. Smith served as the catalyst and model for both.

The two colleges are a part of the venerable old University of Utrecht, founded in 1636.

University College Utrecht is located half way and an easy bike ride between the center of the medieval city where some of the original university buildings are located and the very modern suburban campus in an area known as the Uithof. Created on the site of a former army post, like most American colleges, UCU is self-contained, integrating academic, residential buildings and facilities for dining and student services around a series of quads. Its 400 Dutch and 250 foreign students all live on campus, though some take courses, mainly in lab sciences, in the Uithof area. There is a core faculty, mainly those who chair one of the four main units—Humanities, Sciences, Social Sciences, and one that offers orientation courses such as Dutch history and language for international students—and a number of tutors. Other instructors come over from the main sectors of the university or from other Dutch or foreign universities.

UCU was the first institution of higher learning in the Netherlands and one of the first on the European continent to offer a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Instead of the pillared design that characterizes almost all European universities, in which graduates of classical high schools go immediately into narrowly specialized disciplines such as literature, law, economics, or medicine, from the start, the planners of UCU favored the more American pyramidal system where students take a variety of courses across the curriculum in their first year and, over the next two, narrow the focus to concentrate on a “major.” The scheme proved to be a prototype of what is now widely known as the Bologna Protocol, an agreement by most European countries to move in the direction of replacing the vast array of degree programs with a BA/MA sequence. At UCU the designers of the program opted for a three-year BA, similar to what is found in the United Kingdom.

In almost all other respects, not only is the UCU a near-replication of the American liberal arts system but also its academic structure and curriculum, including original course designs and much of their content, which were Smith-based. This was no accident.

In 1980, a young Dutch sociologist from the University of Tilberg, Hans Adriaansens, spent a year at Smith as a fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies. He came to carry out research on one American social institution especially intriguing to him, the voluntary organization, and ended by studying two. He did extensive interviewing of key figures and observed the activities of many of Northampton’s privately funded community services staffed by both professionals and volunteers. Such organizations were hardly known in Europe. He also became increasingly captivated by something equally foreign to him, the American liberal arts college. In his months spent on the Smith campus (and in almost daily conversations with me and other denizens of Wright Hall, as well as other colleagues), Hans started on a new path, infused, as if by a kind of intellectual osmosis, with the spirit and style of our college. 
Not long after returning to The Netherlands, Hans moved to Utrecht University and soon became the Dean of Social Sciences and a member of the National Science Council, a prestigious group of 10 scientists charged with investigating various aspects of Dutch society. At the Council, he was given two key portfolios: one focused on a reconsideration of the social welfare system, the other looking into the state of tertiary education. His background and experiences in Northampton and the Hague led him to propose that his university experiment with the sort of program he had come to appreciate so much during his year at Smith. Despite considerable skepticism in many quarters, he was given the green light to go ahead. He then sought and received permission to acquire the recently decommissioned army base with its 19th-Century solid-brick, four-story barracks surrounding a parade ground in a choice part of the city, raised millions of gulden (and, later euros) mostly from Dutch government and regional sources, and, with a board of academic advisers, including several from the United States and the United Kingdom, built his new college.

The main building soon became known, in good Smith tradition, as College Hall. (I had suggested calling it “Machiavelli”). The army barracks, some having been turned into classrooms, were given loftier names like Locke and Pascal and Fermi; the mess hall became the dining complex, and several halls of residence were added. Students started arriving before the construction was completed and before the paint was dry. They had the feeling that they were pioneers. And they were.

The UCU exceeded even Hans’—and my—wildest expectations. Within a few years it gained a reputation as a premier institution of higher learning in the Netherlands, garnering more prizes per capita than any other, and placing its graduates in master’s and doctoral programs throughout the continent, in the U.K. and in the U.S., too.

With so much accomplished, it was time to move on.

Unlike the center of the country, where there are many great universities including Utrecht and Leiden and Delft and the Universiteit van Amsterdam, the southern province of Zeeland never had one. Hans Adriaansens, now a highly regarded academic innovator, had a new idea: to build a liberal arts college as the core of a new university. He decided to do this in his—and the Roosevelt family’s—hometown of Middelburg in the southern province of Zeeland.

Three years ago, the Roosevelt Academy, the second Dutch liberal arts honors college linked to Utrecht University opened its doors.

Instead of having an enclosed quadrangle, the campus of the RA is the city of Middelburg, a city known for its unique 15th-Century Flemish-style Stadhuis, the former city hall. That stately building on one side of a town square and marketplace is now the administrative hub of the new college and locale of one of the handsomest lecture halls in the country.

Nearby buildings were taken over to provide classrooms and halls of residence. Today, like its sister institution, UCU, the RA attracts students from all over the Netherlands and many other countries in Europe as well as from Africa, Asia and North America.

The RA has gotten off to a flying start. Indeed, not to be outdone by its older sister, UCU, or any other place, a student-satisfaction survey of all Higher Education Institutions in the Netherlands, just conducted by the influential Elsevier magazine, put the Roosevelt Academy at the top. Researchers asked students about the teaching quality, personal tutor system, the facilities and campus life. In its second year of operation, the Roosevelt Academy was awarded an 8.0—the highest grade in the survey.

Those of us back in Northampton, hardly immune to the ratings of our local institutions, can take considerable pride in the accomplishments of our putative offspring.

Rose, recipient of the Medal of the Universiteit van Amsterdam in 1994, spoke at the first commencement of UCU. His Dutch wife, Hedy Rose, former Director of Education Studies at Wesleyan University, spoke at the convocation at RA in 2005.


DirectoryCalendarCampus MapVirtual TourContact UsSite A-Z