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.
I come from a large family of mostly enterprising tradespeople. Painters and plumbers on my mother’s side, and everyone on my father’s side was a butcher; not a scholarly bunch. My parents had an organic butcher’s that later became a chain of butcher’s shops. I grew up in that environment and I understand the stress of the business. Fresh meat has to be sold quickly, or it has to be be discarded. When I was a teen, my mother began studying humanism. I did not really see myself as a future university student, certainly not while I was still in secondary school. I saw myself much more as a doer. Even so, I completed VWO (Dutch university preparatory education), thinking: you never know you might need it. After graduation I went to the theatre academy in Amsterdam. I wanted to become an impresario, theatre maker, organise things. I had always been politically engaged and thought that theatre was a way to make things visible. Although that may be true – that you can use theatre as a way to make a statement –you do have to want to make theatre for theatre’s sake, too.
I did not really see myself as a future university student, certainly not while I was still in secondary school.
‘After completing my propaedeutic year, I wanted to do something else. I was thinking political science or law, and made a very practical choice: to me, political science seemed like something I could learn from books – I had always been a reader. If you want to become a lawyer or something else in the field of law, you have to have a degree. And to do that, you have to go to university. Totally naive, of course, but that was my logic. As soon as I started studying law I thought it was brilliant. I did my very best because I enjoyed it so much. I studied hard, my marks were high and I was accepted in the honour’s programme. The student council provided the political aspect, and I became chairperson. Together with others I formed a political party for the university: UvAsoc!aal. In other words, I positively threw myself into the programme and the Faculty and everything associated with it. Turned out academia was for me after all.’
‘I read an article about European health law during my Bachelor’s programme at the UvA. I was intrigued; the idea that Europe could regulate something as personal as health while Europe seems much more abstract and distant than a national government was very interesting to me. After that article, I began learning more and decided I wanted to write my thesis on this topic. At the time, there was no Master’s for it so I put one together with courses in European Law, Private Law and Health Law. Writing my thesis went well, relatively easily and with good results. It was fun and challenging. I have always been good at organising things, working in a group, but sitting at the computer alone writing something like that turned out to be a whole new challenge.’
‘Because I wanted to find out more about the regulation of health at various levels of government – centralised, decentralised – I went to New York to do another Master’s there. I could not stop thinking about it; the topic was so interesting to me. There was a professor of European Law, Deirdre Curtin, who I found very inspiring and thought: “If I am going to do a PhD, it will be with her.” With some help from her, I wrote a proposal for a study on European health law for NWO, the Dutch Research Council. The proposal was very well received. That led the Faculty of Law at the UvA to create room for my doctoral research project. I think the UvA has a great research climate: independent and a little bit rebellious. The research that I am conducting is slightly idiosyncratic, an area all its own between health law and European law. I have always been given complete freedom and encouragement at the UvA to develop my own field.’
You can be autonomous and free at the UvA.
‘After obtaining my doctorate, I spent two years working at Maastricht University, where they are extremely good at European law, but I started to miss the UvA. I have been back two years now and, with a Veni grant from the Dutch Research Council, I am conducting research into the European coordination in responding to major disease outbreaks and bio-terrorist attacks. In addition to my work for the University, I am the director of Bureau Clara Wichmann, for which I conduct exciting litigation cases about the legal status of women. There has always been room for that. 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. The law programme is not rigidly academic; you are encouraged to find your own way and you really have to put yourself into it. Your responsibility as a legal expert is emphasised: This is instilled from day one. If you embrace this and if you want something, you will be given a lot of latitude and you will receive solid 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.’
‘Together with others I established the Amsterdam Law Practice, where students are educated through experiential learning. I strongly believe that people can learn from experiences by reflecting on them. The Amsterdam Law Practice comprises 30 courses divided between 22 Master’s programmes. There is a bit of this programme in every Master’s. It allows us to connect with society. Inspired by social commitment, students work on projects that originate in society. For example, it might involve helping an individual client in the law clinic with a rent problem, but it could also concern major, strategic lawsuits involving human rights or constitutional issues. If you can participate in that as a student and actually be assigned significant responsibility, you will learn a lot from it, provided you also receive education that teaches you to reflect on these experiences. Good legal experts need to realise what is happening around them and understand which role they play in it, but they must also be able to reflect on it so that they can change. That is what makes experiential learning an academic endeavour. At the same time, students develop a professional identity through the Amsterdam Law Practice. That is new; it is 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.’
At the Amsterdam Law Practice experiential learning and reflection take centre stage.
‘Yes, I do have dreams for my research. What I want most is to cooperate with others in thinking about different aspects of European and international health law and important related policy-specific topics, such as environmental law, the regulation of food and life sciences. Nothing is as fun as pondering things with others and figuring out how it all fits together and how improvements can be made. I think that at the Faculty we should consider looking outside our usual domains of public, private and international law a bit more. I know for sure that there are also many students like me amongst the current generation who want to do research on the innovation and implications of regulation of daily matters that concern them. Think of topics such as climate change, obesity, access to medicines, the use of artificial intelligence in the diagnosis of diseases. Things in which you can immediately recognise the relevance and social importance.’