Who? Anniek de Ruijter (1982)
What? Associate Professor of European Law and director of Amsterdam Law Practice.
Studied: Law, two Master’s; in the Netherlands and the United States at Columbia Law School.
First job: Selling sausages at the market and packing Christmas hampers for the employees in my parents’ butcher shop.
Favourite place at the UvA: The roundel at the Oudemanhuispoort.
Essentials: A computer, books and good colleagues.
She comes from a large family of born entrepreneurs. Attending university was not in her blood. She earned her first-year diploma at the Theatre Academy in Amsterdam. After that, she chose a different direction entirely. She began a law degree – with great success. In no time, she was taking part in an Honours programme and helping to set up UvAsoc!aal, a political party for the university. She completed a Master's in New York and even earned her doctorate. And that was just the beginning.
I did not really see myself as a future university student, certainly not while I was still in secondary school.
The UvA means a great deal to you, doesn't it?
‘Yes. After obtaining my doctorate, I spent two years working at Maastricht University, where they are extremely good in European law, but I started to miss the UvA. I think the UvA has a great research climate: independent and a little bit rebellious. The research I am conducting is in an area all its own, between health law and European law. At the UvA, you're given the freedom you need to further develop your field of study. In addition to my work for the University, for instance, I am the director of Bureau Clara Wichmann, where we litigate exciting cases that concern the legal status of women. With a Veni grant from the Dutch Research Council, I am currently conducting research into the European coordination in response to major disease outbreaks and bio-terrorist attacks. You can be autonomous and free at the UvA, which gives you a sense of security, although I think that freedom can sometimes be difficult for students, too.’
Do you mean to say that students have trouble managing their freedom?
‘The law programme is not rigidly academic; you are encouraged to find your own way and you really have to put in the effort yourself. The emphasis is immediately on your responsibility as a legal expert: This is instilled from day one. If you accept that responsibility and want to do something, you'll be given a great deal of space and support. Our students are very involved: student politics, demonstrations, happenings; it is all part of the UvA. The education and research at the UvA focus not only what already exists, but also on what does not yet exist – what the world needs. Here, things are not quickly dismissed as crazy and people work from their heart.'
Are you personally being given enough free rein within the faculty?
'Together with others, I established the Amsterdam Law Practice (ALP), where students learn through experiential learning. I deeply believe that people can learn from experiences by reflecting on them. The ALP consists of the Amsterdam Law Clinics, where students can not only work on strategic and ground-breaking legal cases, but also help others via our centres for free legal advice. The programme also includes thirty courses spread across twenty-two Master's programmes. There is a bit of this programme in each one of our Master's. It allows us to connect with society. Students take part in projects based on a sense of social engagement. When students have a chance to work on real issues that affect people in society – and in doing so, take on real responsibility – they can learn so much from that experience. Good legal experts need to realise the context of their environment and understand the role they play in this, yet they must also be able to reflect on the situation. That is what makes experiential learning an academic endeavour. At the Amsterdam Law Practice, we've also opened the Amsterdam Law Hub: a space for social partners who want to innovate the legal system to come together and cooperate with students at the faculty for that purpose. It's a kind of teaching hospital for legal experts. The educational programme is going quite well. I hope that we will be able to add even more depth to the education on offer and develop it further.'
You have achieved a great deal and researched many topics. Are there any dreams left to pursue?
‘Yes, I come up with new dreams and ideas for research all the time. I prefer to collaborate with others on studies and to transcend the boundaries of law as a discipline. One example of this is coming up with ways in which the law can contribute to good health as a social determinant. Or exploring what we can do today to ensure the law is open to innovation, so that we can more effectively integrate consideration for the environment, agriculture and other aspects that impact health.’