Hard-up Dutch v-c set to sell art assets

October 4, 2002

The vice-chancellor of the Netherlands' oldest university has said he may have to sell some of the university's most valuable manuscripts and art works because of cuts in higher education.

In his speech at the beginning of the academic year, Leiden University's Loek Vredevoogd said that to make savings of €10.3 million (£6.5 million) it may be necessary to sell some of the institution's collection of books, manuscripts, maps and prints.

His colleagues at Leiden, which was founded in 1575, have reacted with a mixture of horror and scepticism. One senior lecturer said: "If the vice-chancellor of the oldest university in this relatively wealthy country seriously has to consider getting rid of the art collection to preserve education and research, then there is something basically wrong in our society."

Although Professor Vredevoogd's comments may have been intended as a challenge to the government to find new ways of funding universities, staff fear that it could backfire.

Bart Westerweel, a professor of Dutch studies, said: "There are enough people in the present cabinet who are likely to say 'go ahead and sell'."

Another lecturer said it was naive to think that the government would respond favourably to Mr Vredevoogd's threat.

Mr Vredevoogd claims that he would not sell any objects that were important in terms of education and research.

His critics say that a sale of Leiden's treasures would provide only a quick fix that would not sustain the university long term.

"This is about the soul of the university," Professor Westerweel said. "Besides, so many of these valuable items were donated to the university. We have no right to give them away."

But Douwe Breimer, the university's rector magnificus, supports the vice-chancellor.

"When dozens of people in the law and science faculties lost their jobs just a short time ago, there was a silence around the rest of the university. If we don't take these unorthodox measures, then the sword of Damocles will be hanging over everyone's heads," he said.

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