In Praise of Slow Science and Slow Education (2011)

Dear students, dear professors, and dear members of that important section of the university, the administrative staff, dear all,

You suppose that I must be quite happy with this honour, but you just have no idea! Best teacher of the year! An honour bestowed upon me by this new, great, innovative, inspiring top-university that I have come to love so much. I want to thank Marijk for deciding to hire me three years ago. Most of all I thank the students in my class in the spring of 2010 and in the spring of 2011, who have made my life at AUC a terrific intellectual adventure. Thank you all.

Please allow me one final but heartfelt thank you. Michèle, we’ve been friends now for 43 years. It is completely unthinkable for me that I would have been able to devote myself with so much intensity and pleasure to my tasks as a sociologist, had you not been there as my unwavering partner in intellectual discourse, in friendship and in love. Thank you.

I want to take this opportunity for a cri du coeur. It is about fastness and slowness in education. The characteristic thing about a McDonalds restaurant is that it produces so-called fast food, the production process is directed at speed, high speed. This may be practical if you need a quick snack. But in education, that kind of speed is disastrous. I want to stress here, in the brief few minutes given to me, at high speed, the sheer importance of time in the process of education. Whether we like it or not, we have to offer the minds of our students the time to assess, select, check, transform, regroup, compare and evaluate all those new ideas that we confront them with. Processing new pieces of knowledge demands a concentrated mind; it demands calm contemplation. We offer knowledge that you have to attentively taste and chew on, in order to make it swallowable, digestable. New theories have to slowly sink in, so to speak. The students have to carefully observe those new ideas from different angles, they have to reflect upon the question how the new things they learn from us are related to the older knowledge that they acquired earlier on in life. New knowledge networks have to slowly emerge inside their brains. But that just takes time.

AUC has chosen the right track; they offer full semesters, 15 weeks of intense education. But in UvA and also in the Universities of Utrecht and Leiden and maybe elsewhere, the professors now have to queeze their material into a four week course, with only three weeks devoted to actual teaching or into an eight week course, with only six weeks reserved for lectures and seminars. The last three weeks now, I have been breathlessly speed lecturing to enable my first years students to reproduce complicated theories in an exam that takes place before the end of october. But the university is not a McDonalds restaurant, where one of the aims is to get rid of the customers as quickly as possible.

If this process goes on, UCU, AUC and some other top notch universities will automatically turn into the high-end, slow-food, three-stars restaurants within the Dutch university system. As a member of the AUC family, that should make me happy. But such a stratification process would be bad news for the academic community as a whole. Let us propagate slow science, slow research and slow education throughout the whole Dutch university system. Our students deserve it. And we, their teachers, we deserve it too. Thank you.

‘In Praise of Slow Science and Slow Education. Acceptance Speech at the Anouncement of the AUC Teacher of the Year Award, 2011, during the second AUC Diës Natalis, Auditorium of the University of Amsterdam, 22 September 2011.