Wilken Engelbrecht

prof. dr. Wilken Engelbrecht, Dept. Dutch Studies, Faculty of Arts, Palacký University Olomouc, Full Professor in Theory of Literature

My story

During the academic year 1990/91, I had a bursary for manuscript research in Czechoslovakia, this research being a part to prepare my internal Ph.D. study in Amsterdam. I was asked then by the German Department in Olomouc to rebuild the lectureship of Dutch that Palacky University had from 1947 till 1953. After ample hesitation, I took the job, as it was interesting to build up a lectureship according to my own vision. When one is just in his twenties, without a family, you take such decisions. Gradually, I proceeded through all academic levels: I started as a foreign lecturer, in 1997, I became an assistant, after having defended my PhD in Utrecht (2003), I acquired the position of a Senior Lecturer (Odborný asistent) and the former lecturship became an independent chair. In 2005, I defended my habilitation and in 2012 finally as well my Full Professorship. I was active in academic positions – I have been member of both the University and the Faculty Senate, trice president of the Faculty Senate, twice Vice-Dean, and many times member of local and national commissions. The lectureship, I have rebuilt, is now one of the most important chairs of Dutch Studies in Central Europe.

Accepting the offer of the university meant that I have been at least till 1997 on an extremely badly paid position that urged me to work as well as an external teacher on a high school. In the first five years, I was even always fired between July and September, as the university simply had no money to pay me during the vacation. This was improved a little bit after 1997 and especially when I had defended my Ph.D. To my astonishment, my better academic position in 2005, when I became Associate Professor („docent“) meant a lower salary, as the higher taxes meant less netto pay. Since ca. 2018, the salary is in fact from year to year worse, because salary increases are not enough to keep up with inflation, a fact that has been particularly threatening in the past two years.

My field of research is a typical “minor philology”. Threatening government savings could eventually mean that the study will be closed, and I will lose my job. As I am 60 years old now and have still at least 5 years to go till retirement, my wife and I have a mortgage to pay and our youngest son (16) is still in the high school age, this would be an immediate threat to our existence.

After having defended my habilitation in 2005, I have been several times invited by foreign universities to accept a professor’s position. I have really considered accepting the position of a university professor in Zürich after the retirement of Jelle Stegeman (2015), and once more a similar position in Vienna after the retirement (2019) of Herbert van Uffelen. Both times, I finally decided not to take the offered position, because it would mean the end of Dutch Studies in Olomouc. Of course, given the impending government cuts, I now wonder if I have done the wrong thing. The salary is actually insufficient as it is (a high school teacher earns as much as I do as a professor – for less work and responsibility) and I could now have had a Vienna professorial salary….