Hans Rosenberg (1943-1992) was an openly gay alderman and university director in Utrecht. He laid the foundation for the national ICT-organisation for higher education. He died of AIDS at the age of 48.
Hans Rosenberg was a striking appearance and not only because of his dark beard. He rarely wore a tie, but always had the top buttons of his shirt unbuttoned and the sleeves rolled up. He didn’t have a briefcase, but a shoulder bag, often supplemented with typical white linen shoulder bags. And he was openly gay. Nothing special for a rebellious student, but very special for an alderman of Utrecht and a member of the Executive Board of Utrecht University.
Hans Rosenberg started his career in Utrecht in 1961 as an astronomy student. He soon became politically active. In 1962 he became chairman of the Utrecht department of the Student Union. And after that of the Utrecht Student Faculties (USF), an organization for consultation between students and the university. A “Report Rosenberg” wanted to add many homes for non-students on the Utrecht University Campus (nowadays called Utrecht Science Park) in order to break through the isolation of the university. After graduating (the first of his year – in 1966) he became a researcher. He was at the forefront of demonstrations against national education policy in The Hague and was prominently present during the occupation of the Utrecht Academy Building in 1969. In 1973 he obtained his doctorate for a dissertation on solar physics. And, as he writes years later in the Utrecht University magazine:
It was highly probable he would become a professor in the foreseeable future.
Hans did not like such a predictable future. He was an active member of the Dutch Labor Party and became, as an openly gay man, alderman for finance and economic affairs for the city of Utrecht in 1975, aged 31 at the time. He was appreciated for his clear analytical approach, quick intelligence and sharp wit. But he also got criticism. Especially when he initiated a fundamental discussion about the role and size of the civil service of the Utrecht municipality.
During his time as alderman, he and his partner Bert de Leeuw (secretary at the construction trade union and board member of Utrecht queer youth organisation Pann) moved into an apartment in a building on the Oudegracht 271. Since 1752 the building was called ‘de Eijkel’ (the Acorn). The move was accompanied by a big party for all friends, acquaintances and employees. Hans and Bert asked stonemason Koos Boomsma and ceramist Tjerk Holtrop to make a façade stone for the building, a gilded acorn with a nibbling acorn mouse. It was placed in the top of the facade in 1991 and is still there to be admired.
In 1982 Hans went back to the university. This time as a member of the Executive Board. He immediately had to deal with waves of cutbacks and the disappearance of fields of study from Utrecht (including dentistry). Hans was the driving force behind the first four-year development plan and launched a project that looked much further into the future: (R)UU 2001.
Only when you know where you want to go you are able to make sensible decisions.
One of Hans’ most important achievements is the establishment of SURF, the ICT-partnership of Dutch universities, higher educational and research institutions. As early as 1985 (!) he understood that computer infrastructure would become indispensable. And that it was not smart to become dependent on suppliers from abroad. His asking the minister for 1 billion guilders (= about half a billion American dollars) met with much surprise and resistance. But SURF came and is still there!
In 1990, partner Bert de Leeuw died of AIDS. It was no secret that Hans also suffered from the disease, but he continued to work for quite some time. In December 1991 his illness obliged him to resign and leave the university. He passed away on September 21, 1992, at age 48.
Lieke van Noord
Utrechts Nieuwsblad – September 23, 1992
Utrecht Universiteitsblad – December 15, 1991
Utrecht Universiteitsblad – September 24, 1992
NRC – November 9, 1985
Wikipedia – “Hans Rosenberg” including the sources mentioned there
Photos from the Utrecht Municipal Archive
Newspaper article from Delpher