Whoops: Cap rule for PhD ceremonies was supposed to be optional

The gender-stereotypical rule that says that women should keep their cap on during PhD ceremonies most likely ended up in the PhD regulations by accident. ‘We weren’t paying attention.’

They meant well. It was based on the idea that female professors often get their hair done, while men don’t. Taking off their cap would mess up their ‘do, which is annoying. When the PhD board, which consists of the faculty deans and the rector magnificus, was discussing modernising the regulations, they thought it would be a good idea to address this. 

‘The committee of deans requested that this be made optional’, Medical Sciences dean Marian Joëls says by email. ‘Women may, not must, keep their caps on. But I’m not sure if this actually made it in?’

Behavioural and Social Sciences dean Kees Aarts also recalls the cap discussion. ‘This point was brought up in the last meeting’, he says. ‘The regulations said that women should always keep their cap on. The other deans and I were like, okay. We didn’t think it was an issue.’


But during the university council committee meeting, it became clear that this was, in fact, an issue. Janet Fuller with the personnel faction said the rule was ‘an unwanted and outdated gender stereotype’. In an opinion piece in UKrant, retired professor Mineke Bosch called it ‘a classic example of sexism’. 

The regulations, which stipulates the exact rules of a PhD, were due an update. In addition to new rules concerning attending a defence online, associate professors with ius promovendi being allowed to wear a gown, and PhD students being allowed to change supervisors, the regulations were also being made gender neutral. All the instances of he/she were removed from the text. 


‘But, and I know I’m just adding fuel to the fire here, this particular rule wasn’t in there’, says law faculty dean Wilbert Kolkman. He thinks it makes sense to have rules about when people should wear their cap. ‘Like when a supervisor speaks the words to promote the candidate. It just looks nice. But I think people should be able to take it off now and then.’

He admits that the board clearly failed to make the PhD regulations neutral. ‘If there is a difference, it must be for a good reason’, he emphasises. ‘Like how men aren’t allowed in women’s bathrooms, just to name an example.  There are reasons to distinguish between men and women sometimes. But this isn’t one of them.’ 

Aarts agrees. ‘We weren’t paying attention.’

Not that serious

Interestingly enough, the women on the PhD board don’t seem particularly bothered by the wording. Joëls writes she doesn’t think the matter is ‘all that serious’. ‘I always take off my cap because it’s a bit too small, which is uncomfortable. I don’t think the beadle will punish me for that.’

Thony Visser also says she ‘doesn’t mind the ritual’. ‘I think etiquette applies here, considering the ceremonial nature of the proceedings.’ 

The personnel and science factions have prepared questions to ask the rector magnificus. ‘We want to know why these decisions were made and if they can still be changed. Especially when it comes to the caps’, says Fuller. ‘It should be an easy fix.’

Related articles



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here