Mahsa Jina Amini and Anne Frank: Woman, Life, Freedom

Speech delivered on November 30, 2022, at TU Delft, as part of the Campus Rally for Iran, in which scholars from 227 universities across the world demonstrated for freedom, justice, and democracy in Iran.

Dear Friends, Salām!

Thank you for the invitation to speak here, which is an honor. My name is Arie, Arie van Deursen. I am a professor in computer science, and I am head of one of the Computer Science Departments here at TU Delft.

Computer science, like many other academic disciplines, is highly international. For example, when I saw the list of 135 universities participating in today’s rally, I recognized many places. I visited or collaborated with scholars from UBC, UVic, Waterloo, Amherst, UC Davis, Stuttgart, Bremen, Milan, Utrecht, and many more.

The reason is that academia is united as one. As academics, we believe in the free, rational exchange of ideas, to make this world a better place. Such discussion does not take place in isolation, but happens together, among academics from all over the world. Scholars depend on each other. We need each other. This also means that

  • If academia in one country is suffering, all of academia is suffering;
  • If students and professors are assaulted or arrested at one university, all universities feel the pain;
  • If, as in Iran right now, academic women, life, and freedom are under attack, all of academia is under attack.

This is why we stand here today, as scholars from all over the world, in solidarity with the students and scholars in Iran, in their peaceful fight for the freedom of the people of Iran.

I also stand here as a head of department. Like the rest of academia, the employees of my department, and the students we educate, come from all over the world. These include dozens of incredibly talented and wonderful people from Iran, many of whom are here today.

I cannot begin to imagine how difficult this period must be for you. You must be deeply concerned about the lives of your loved ones in Iran and the fate of your country. We, your colleagues, your peers, your professors: We think of you and we support you, and we strongly condemn the violence against you. If there is anything we can do to help you, please let us know.

I personally began to understand the situation in Iran a little better when I started supervising a PhD student from Iran, back in 2005. (Since then I have worked with many, and they have all been marvelous). This first student (Ali Mesbah, now a professor at UBC), defended his thesis in June 2009. As you know, this was an eventful period in Iran, and he, his paranimphs, and many people in the audience wore green wristbands in support of the protests in Iran at that time.

A few years later I read Marjane Satrapi’s beautiful graphic novel Persepolis. I think the book is forbidden in Iran, but my then teenage children had to read it at high school in The Netherlands, which prompted me to read it as well. I was mind blown. Persepolis tells Satrapi’s story of growing up in the new Islamic Republic: The oppression, the violence, and the balancing act separating your secret private life from what is allowed in public. It is also a story about moving to Europe as an art student, the loneliness this brings, and about how much you can miss your home country. And it is, ultimately, a story about love and family.

In a Vogue interview in 2016 with Emma Watson (of Hermione Granger fame), Marjane Satrapi gave a clear diagnosis of the root cause of Iran’s current status: “The enemy of democracy isn’t one person. The enemy of democracy is patriarchal culture.”

For resisting that culture, for fighting the patriarchy, Mahsa Jina Amini paid the ultimate price.

Since then, women and men across Iran have followed her lead, demanding freedom. Hundreds of peaceful protesters have been killed, thousands arrested, and tens of thousands assaulted. Despite that, the struggle for freedom continues. An iconic picture to me is that of two young women, no hijab, who were simply offering free hugs in a street in the city of Kermanshah. This is a time when the sad people of Iran just need a hug, they observed.

They were risking their lives. Their bravery is an inspiration to all of us.

Therefore, we stand here, and in more than one hundred universities around the world, in strong solidarity with you, to support you, in your demand for justice and freedom.

Let me conclude with a quote from another strong young woman, Anne Frank. She wrote it in her diary on April 12, 1944, when she was 14 years old. She had spent two years in an attic in Amsterdam, hiding for the German Nazi occupiers of The Netherlands. The day before, their hideout had been discovered by a burglar. They weren’t arrested yet, but the danger was imminent.

This is what she wrote. I’ll read it first in Dutch, and then in English.

Ik weet wat ik wil,
ik heb een doel; een mening,
ik heb een geloof en een liefde.
Laat me mezelf zijn, dan ben ik tevreden.
Ik weet dat ik een vrouw ben,
een vrouw met innerlijke sterkte en veel moed.

I know what I want,
I have a goal, an opinion,
I have a religion and love.
Let me be myself and then I am satisfied.
I know that I am a woman,
a woman with inward strength and plenty of courage.

Woman — life — freedom
Jin — Jiyan — Azadî
Jin — Jiyan — Azadî

Thank you very much!

Arie van Deursen. Delft, November 30, 2022

Member Advisory Council ICT Assessments

July 15, 2022, I have been appointed by the cabinet of the Dutch government as a member of the Advisory Council ICT Assessments (AcICT), starting September 1st, 2022. I am happy, and honored, with this appointment!

The task of the council is as follows (my own translation):

The Advisory Council ICT Assessments judges risks and the chance of success of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) projects within the Dutch national government, and offers advice for improvement. It also assesses the effectiveness and efficiency of the maintenance and management of information systems. The council consists of experts, from academia and industry, who have administrative, supervisory and management experience with regard to the realization, deployment and control of ICT processes.

Ministeries submit any project with an ICT-component of over 5 million Euros to the council. Based on a risk assessment, the council subsequently decides whether it conducts an investigation.

Since 2015, almost 100 assessments have been conducted, on various domains. Recent examples include high school exams, governmental treasury banking, vehicle taxes, and the development process of the Dutch Covid-19 tracking app.

The resulting assessment reports are 7-8 pages long, centered around a number (typically three) of core risks, followed by specific recommendations (also often three) on how to address these risks. Example risks from recent reports include:

  • “Key project results are not yet complete in the final stages of the project” (treasury)
  • “An unnecessarily fine-grained solution takes too much time” (exams)
  • “The program needs to realize too many changes simultaneously” (vehicle taxes)

The corresponding recommendations:

  1. “Work towards a fallback scenario so that the old system can remain in operation until the new system is demonstrably stable” (treasury)
  2. “Establish how to simplify the solution” (exams)
  3. “Reduce the scope” (vehicle taxes)

The assessments are prepared by a team of presently around 20 ICT researchers and research managers. When needed, external researchers with specific expertise are consulted. Assessments follow an assessment framework, which distinguishes nine risk areas (such as scope, architecture, implementation, and acceptance).

The assessments serve to support political decision making, and are focused on the Dutch parliament and ministers. For each assessment, the minister in question offers a formal reaction, also available from the council’s web site. This serves to help parliament to fullfil their responsibility of checking the executive ministers.

The council consists of five members, each involved part time (for one day per week), for a period of four years, each bringing their own dedicated expertise. For me personally, I see a strong connection with my research and education at the TU Delft, in such areas as software architecture, software testing, and developer productivity.

As a computer scientist, I consider responsible, transparent, and cost-effective digitalization of great importance for the (Dutch) democracy and society. The advisory council fulfills a unique and important role, which is closely connected to my interests in software engineering. I look forward, together with my new colleagues from the AcICT, to contributing to the improvement of the digitalizations of the Dutch government.

I am presently not aware of comparable councils in other countries, in Europe or elsewhere. If you know of similar institutions in your own country, please let me know!

Lid Adviescollege ICT-toetsing

Op 15 juli 2022 ben ik door de ministerraad benoemd als lid van het Adviescollege ICT-toetsing (AcICT), op voorstel van staatssecretaris Van Huffelen van Koninkrijksrelaties en Digitalisering, per 1 september 2022. Ik ben blij en vereerd met deze benoeming!

De opdracht van dit college is:

Het Adviescollege ICT-toetsing oordeelt over de risico’s en de slaagkans van ICT (Informatie- en Communicatie Technologie) projecten binnen de Rijksoverheid en geeft adviezen ter verbetering. Ook toetst het de doeltreffendheid en doelmatigheid van onderhoud en beheer van informatiesystemen. Het adviescollege bestaat uit deskundigen – uit de wetenschappelijke wereld en het bedrijfsleven – die beschikken over bestuurlijke, toezichthoudende en managementervaring met betrekking tot realisatie, inzet en beheersing van ICT-trajecten.

Ministeries melden elk project met een ICT-component van meer dan 5 miljoen Euro bij het Adviescollege aan. Op basis van een risicoanalyse beslist het AcICT vervolgens of het een onderzoek uitvoert.

Sinds 2015 (toen nog als Bureau ICT-toetsing — BIT) zijn bijna honderd onderzoeken uitgevoerd, recent bijvoorbeeld over het moderniseren van examens, het digitaliseren van schatkistbankieren, het rationaliseren van de motorrijtuigenbelasting, en het ontwikkelproces van de Coronamelder app.

De meeste adviezen zijn 7-8 pagina’s in omvang, en zijn opgebouwd rond een kern van (vaak drie) belangrijke risico’s, gevolgd door enkele (ook vaak drie) concrete adviezen hoe de koers bij te stellen in het licht van deze risico’s. Genoemde risico’s zijn bijvoorbeeld:

  1. "Cruciale projectresultaten nog niet gereed zijn in het eindstadium van het project" (Schatkistbankieren)
  2. "Onnodig fijnmazige oplossing kost veel tijd" (Examens)
  3. "Het programma moet te veel veranderingen tegelijk realiseren" (Motorrijtuigenbelasting)

Met bijbehorend advies:

  1. "Werk een terugvalscenario uit zodat het oude systeem blijft functioneren totdat het nieuwe systeem aantoonbaar stabiel is." (Schatkistbankieren)
  2. "Identificeer hoe de oplossing eenvoudiger kan" (Examens)
  3. "Beperk de scope" (Motorrijtuigenbelasting)

De adviezen worden voorbereid door een team van (op dit moment) circa 20 ICT-onderzoekers en -onderzoeksmanagers. Waar nodig worden ook externe onderzoekers met specifieke expertise ingezet. Leidraad voor elk onderzoek is het toetskader, waarin negen risicogebieden (zoals bijv. scope, architectuur, realisatie, en acceptatie) worden onderscheiden.

De adviezen dienen ter ondersteuning van de politieke besluitvorming, en zijn dus gericht op de Eerste en Tweede Kamer en de ministers en staatssecretarissen. De minister reageert op het onderzoek van het AcICT middels een brief die ook openbaar is (en ook te vinden op de AcICT website), waarna het parlement de adviezen en de bestuurlijke reactie kan controleren.

Het Adviescollege zelf telt vijf leden, elk met hun eigen expertise, die dit werk in deeltijd doen (één dag per week), voor een periode van vier jaar. Voor mij zie ik een mooie aansluiting bij mijn onderzoek en onderwijs aan de TU Delft, bijvoorbeeld op het gebied van software-architectuur, software-testen, en efficiëntie van het software-ontwikkelproces.

Verantwoorde, transparante, en kosten-effectieve digitalisering is van groot belang voor de Nederlandse democratie en samenleving. In het realiseren hiervan speelt het Adviescollege een belangrijke rol, en ik wil me dus graag inzetten voor het AcICT.

Ik zie ook een mooie connectie tussen de taken van het Adviescollege en mijn eigen kennis en ervaring op het gebied van software engineering. Ik kijk er naar uit om, samen met de nieuwe collega’s van het AcICT, een bijdrage te leveren aan de succesvolle digitalisering van de Nederlandse overheid.

Europe’s Open Access “Plan S” and Paper Publishing in Software Engineering Research

A year ago, more than a dozen influential research funders in Europe launched Plan S. This plan poses, from 2021 onwards, strict requirements on open access publishing of any research funded through the Plan S coalition. To understand what this means for my field of research, software engineering, I did some data collection. My data suggests that 14% (one out of seven) of the published papers are affected, meaning that conferences may lose 14% of their papers, unless publishers take action.

Plan S in a Nutshell

Plan S is an initiative launched by:

  • The European Union, which runs the Horizon Europe program of €100 billion (over 113 billion US dollars). It is the successor to H2020, and includes funding for the prestigious personal grants of the European Research Council (ERC).
  • Twelve national research funding organizations, from various European countries, such as The Netherlands (where I live), the United Kingdom, and Austria.

The aim of these Plan S “funders” (collectively called “Coalition S”), is that

With effect from 2021, all scholarly publications on the results from research funded by public or private grants provided by national, regional and international research councils and funding bodies, must be published in Open Access Journals, on Open Access Platforms, or made immediately available through Open Access Repositories without embargo.

The coalition has taken an axiomatic approach to expressing its plans, starting with 10 principles, followed by a Guidance to the Implementation. The results is a somewhat hard to understand document, in which there are multiple ways to become Plan S compliant.

In all forms of Plan S compliance the Creative Commons license plays a key role. As Plan S (under the header Rights and Licensing) puts it:

The public must be granted a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, irrevocable license to share (i.e., copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format) and adapt (i.e., remix, transform, and build upon the material) the article for any purpose, including commercial, provided proper attribution is given to the author.

This, thus, corresponds to the Creative Commons Attribution license, also known as CC BY. Note that this is a very generous license, essentially allowing anyone to do anything with the paper. Traditionally, publishers do not like this, as they wish to keep exclusive control over who distributes the paper.

Strictly speaking, Plan S does not require CC BY per se, but authors need to ask permission for any other license. For the CC BY-SA “Share-Alike” variant of the license permission will be granted automatically, but for CC BY-ND “No Derivatives” permission needs to be asked. Coalition S explicitly indicates that CC BY-NC “Non-Commercial” is not allowed:

We will not accept a Non-Commercial restriction on the re-use of research results.

Given this CC BY starting point, Plan S distinguishes three routes to compliance:

  1. Open access venues: The conference or journal is gold open access, meaning all papers in it are freely available. This is “the ideal” case, from Plan S perspective, and compliant. Open access fees (“Article Processing Charges”) are common in this route, and will be refunded by Coalition S.
  2. Subscription-based venues: These by themselves are non-compliant, but can be made compliant if the author immediately (no embargo) deposits the Author’s Accepted Manuscript (AAM) in a compliant repository with a CC BY license. This license is a complicating factor, since many publishers pose restrictions on redistribution of self-archived papers (they are self-archived, and no one else can do this — which is at odds with the sharing principle of CC BY). If such restrictions exist, a way out can exist if the venue permits hybrid open access, in which authors can pay an extra fee to make their own article open access available with a CC BY license. This model is offered by many publishers, but not by all. Note, however, that in Plan S, while this route is “compliant”, Plan S does not refund the APC fees.
  3. Subscrition venues in transition: If the conference or journal is not open access yet, but in transition towards a full open access model by 2024, the publisher and Plan S can agree on “transformative arrangements”. In this case the paper will be compliant, and if there are fees involved they will (likely) be covered.

The 10 principles also address other issues relevant to open access: it requires that “the structure of fees must be transparent” (principle 05, suggesting that some of the current article processing charges are unexplainably high), and warns that the funders will monitor compliance and sanction non-compliant beneficiaries/grantees (principle 09, a direct threat to me).

Plan S should start in 2021, although publishers can earn some extra time by participating in the above-mentioned “transformative arrangements”.

Plan S Compliance in Software Engineering Research

To understand whether Plan S compliant publishing in my area of research, software engineering, is possible at the moment, I looked at the top 20 venues in the area of Software Systems, according to Google Metrics.

In these top 20 venues, just three are gold open access: POPL and OOPSLA, both published by ACM SIGPLAN, and ETAPS TACAS, published by Springer. It is in these venues that authors funded through Coalition S, can safely publish, following the gold open access route to compliance. Their open access fees will be covered by the Coalition S funders.

The remaining 17 are closed access subscription venues, published by ACM, IEEE, Elsevier and Springer. Authors who wish to publish there, and who need to be compliant with Plan S, would then have to resort to the self-archiving route.

Since the self-archiving constraints of these four publishers do not permit the use of CC BY without a fee, the hybrid route applies, in which (1) authors pay a fee; (2) the publisher distributes with CC BY; and (3) the author shares on a Plan S compliant repository. Note that this route is compliant, but that the fee is not refunded by Coalition S.

This self-archiving route works for IEEE journals, but not for IEEE conferences. This is because for IEEE conferences presently authors do not have the option to pay a fee to publish just their own paper open access (unlike ACM). As stated by IEEE in their FAQ on the “IEEE Policy Regarding Authors Rights to Post Accepted Versions of Their Articles”:

Currently IEEE does not have an Open Access program for conference articles.

In other words: Conferences published by IEEE are not Plan S compliant, not even with the green open access route (as IEEE does not permit CC BY).

Of the 20 venues, IEEE is the sole publisher of two conferences (ICSME and SANER), one magazine (IEEE Software), and the co-publisher of another three (ICSE, SANER, MSR) which are published alternatingly by IEEE or ACM.

In summary, of the 20 top venues:

  • Three are compliant through gold open access.
  • Eleven are compliant through a fee-based hybrid model with CC BY.
  • Three are half of the time compliant through a fee-based hybrid model with CC BY, the other half non-compliant.
  • Three can presently not be made compliant.

Note that other fields may fare better: top conferences in security (Usenix), AI (AAAI, NIPS), or OOPSLA/POPL/ICFP sponsored by SIGPLAN are all full gold open access. This, however, seems the exception rather than the rule.

Plan S Rationale

With Plan S requiring many publishers to change their policies, one may wonder what the rationale behind this plan is. The way I see it, the key reason for the European funders to propose this plan is leverage, in the following ways:

  • The European Union as a whole will benefit more from their €100 billion investment, if any (European) citizen can freely access the resulting knowledge;
  • Research is never conducted in isolation. Progress in research is not just visible in papers directly funded through a project, but also in subsequent papers building on top of those results (refuting, strengthening, criticizing, or expanding them). The more venues are open access, the higher the chance that these follow up results are also published as open access.
  • The universities in the European Union together will benefit financially if the publishing market shifts towards open access: The current profit margins of up to 40% of publishing giants like Elsevier are a waste of tax payer money that instead should be directly invested in research and education, the exact same causes that the EU and its Horizon Europe program seeks to advance as well. Pumping €100 billion into a system that wastes money at scale is ineffective.

Furthermore, note that this coalition works in all areas of research, including climate change, health care, and artificial intelligence. From the European perspective, the world needs informed societal debate about these topics. To that end, the EU is committed to maximizing the free availability of any research it is funding.

Last but not least, Coalition S is working hard to expand the list of funders, talking to both China and India, for example. Also, Jordania and Zambia have already joined, as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (though their presence in computer science research is limited, compared to, e.g., China).

Impact on Software Engineering Conferences

With software engineering venues so clearly affected by Plan S, the next question is how many papers will be affected. Thus, I decided to collect some data, to measure the impact of Plan S in my field.

Since conferences (with full length rigorously reviewed papers) are dominant in software engineering, I focused on these. I picked two editions of ICSE and ESEC/FSE (for which I am a member of the steering committee) and for the smaller and more specialized ISSTA conference (which I happened to attend this summer).

For each published paper, I manually checked the acknowledgments to see whether the authors were beneficiaries from any of the Plan S funders. I did this for the main (technical research) track papers only, and not for, e.g., demonstration sub-tracks.

The results (also available as spreadsheet) are as follows:

Table with data per conference

A few results stand out:

  1. Overall, 14% (1 in 7) of the papers currently receive grants from Coalition S.
  2. The two big conferences, ICSE (over 1000 participants) and ESEC/FSE (over 300 participants), exhibit an impact on around 11-12% of the papers.
  3. For the smaller ISSTA conference, more than 25% of the papers are (co-)funded through Coalition S. This number reflects the composition of the community, and the impact is enlarged by the small total number of papers. Should the affected researchers decide not to submit to ISSTA anymore, this may constitute an existential threat to the conference.
  4. The EU is by far the biggest funder, with researchers and industry from many countries benefiting from participation in large EU projects. Furthermore, the EU ERC (Advanced) Grants are extremely prestigious (€2.5 million) and have been won by leaders in the software engineering field such as (in the collected data) Carlo Ghezzi, Mark Harman, Bashar Nuseibeh, and Andreas Zeller.
  5. The UK is the second biggest funder, mostly through its EPSRC program. This is the UK’s national program, unrelated to the European Union. Thus, EPSRC’s participation in Coalition S will not be affected by Brexit (apart from increased financial pressure on ESPRC’s overall budget as the UK’s economy is shrinking).
  6. While a small country with limited funds, Luxembourg is very active in the area of software engineering, causing high impact for, e.g., the ISSTA conference.

The 14% I found is substantially higher than the estimate of 6% impact found by Clarivate Analytics (cited by the ACM), and the 5% found by the ACM itself. If anything, this factor 3 or even factor 5 with ISSTA difference calls for a detailed assessment for each venue affected.

My data is based on what I saw in the acknowledgments: In reality it is likely that more papers are affected. You can check your own papers in my on line spreadsheet — corrections are welcome.

Collecting the data takes took me around a minute per paper. You are cordially invited to repeat this exercise for your own favorite conference or journal (TSE, EMSE, JSS, MSR, ICSME, RE, MODELS, …), and I will do my best to reflect your data in this post. If you’re a conference organizer, the safest thing to do is survey authors about their funding, enquiring about Coalition S based funding explicitly.

There is a another point to be made that required little data gathering.

The 14% figure relates to impact on the conference. Individual researchers can be affected much more. Our group at TU Delft, for example, has been very successful in attracting substantial funding both from the EU and from the Dutch NWO. As a consequence, for me personally, half of my publications will be affected. For some new PhD students starting in my group funded on such projects all publications will be affected.

A Call for Action

Clearly, the impact of Plan S can be substantial, on individual researchers as well as on conferences and journals.

This calls for action.

ACM, as one of the leading publishers in computer science, shared an update on their Plan S progress in their July 2019 news letter. It states:

It is worth noting that ACM has been working with various consortia in the US, Europe, and elsewhere on a framework for transitioning the traditional ACM Digital Library licensing (subscription) model to a Gold Open Access model utilizing an innovative “transformative agreement” model. More details will be announced later in 2019 as the first of these Agreements are executed; once these are in place, all ACM Publications will comply with the majority of Plan S requirements.

This is good news, and certainly not a simple undertaking. I sincerely hope that ACM will be able to meet not just the majority, but all requirements, and for all conferences and journals. This essentially implies a change of business model for the ACM Digital Library, from a subscription based to an author-(institution)-pays model. This in itself will not be easy, and is further complicated by several constraints and strong criteria imposed by Plan S, for example concerning cost transparency. The key challenge will be to convince Coalition S that these criteria are indeed met.

The ACM Special Interest Group on Programming Languages, SIGPLAN, meanwhile, sets an example on how to progress within the current setting. The research papers of three of its key conferences are published as part of the Proceedings of the ACM in Programming Languages. This is a Gold Open Access journal in which different volumes are devoted to different conferences. The POPL, OOPSLA, and ICFP conferences have adopted this model, and hence are fully open access. To quote the Inaugural Editorial Message by Philip Wadler:

PACMPL is a Gold Open Access journal. It will be archived in ACM’s Digital Library, but no membership or fee is required for access. Gold Open Access has been made possible by generous funding through ACM SIGPLAN, which will cover all open access costs in the event authors cannot. Authors who can cover the costs may do so by paying an Article Processing Charge (APC). PACMPL, SIGPLAN, and ACM Headquarters are committed to exploring routes to making Gold Open Access publication both affordable and sustainable.

The ACM SIG for Software Engineering, SIGSOFT, so far has not taken action along these lines. Nevertheless, this is simple to do, especially since SIGPLAN has laid out all the ground work.

Furthermore, last year, we as ACM SIGSOFT members elected Tom Zimmermann as our chair. In his statement for the elections he wrote:

We should make gold open access a priority for SIGSOFT

He also provided details on how to achieve this, mostly along the lines of SIGPLAN. By electing him, we as ACM SIGSOFT members gave him the mandate to carry this out. This will not be easy to do, but calls for all support from the full software engineering research community to help the ACM SIGSOFT leadership with this important mission.

The other main non-profit society publisher in software engineering is the IEEE. IEEE publishes various conferences and journals in software engineering on its own, such as ICSME, MODELS, RE and ICST. Furthermore, several major conferences are co-sponsored by IEEE and ACM together, such as ICSE and ASE.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find on line information about IEEE’s vision on Plan S, and its impact on the conference proceedings published by the IEEE. This makes it very unclear what, from 2021 onwards, the publication options are for many software engineering conferences.

Nevertheless, it is my hope that IEEE will embrace Plan S, and move to open access conference proceedings, as many other society publishers have done.

This, then, will open the floor to joint open access publications, for example through the new fully open access “Proceedings of the ACM in Software Engineering”.

Version History

  • Version 0.4, 20-08-2019. First public version.
  • Version 0.5, 25-08-2019. Major update to reflect that self-archiving route can aslo be used to meet Plan S requirements.
  • Version 0.6, 26-08-2019. Small updates about CC BY options.
  • Version 0.7, 28-08-2019. Major update about repository route in combination with CC BY and hybrid open access, and transformative arrangements.
  • Version 0.8, 30-08-2019. Add links to IEEE open access faq/
  • Version 0.9, 04-09-2019. Small typos fixed

Note: IANAL — use this information at your own risk.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Diomidis Spinellis, Simon Bains, Jeroen Bosman, Bianca Kramer, and Jeroen Sondervan for feedback on an earlier drafts on this post.

License: Copyright (c) Arie van Deursen, 2019. Licensed under CC BY.

Slide Deck


Current Dutch Ius Promovendi Considered Harmful

The Dutch regulations on granting PhD degrees are a disgrace. Unlike most other countries, The Netherlands only gives full professors the right to award a PhD (the full professor has the “ius promovendi”). Thus, in the current regulations, if you’re an assistant or associate professor supervising a PhD student, you will need to find a full professor (deemed “the promotor”) who will be fully responsible for the entire PhD process, even if you’re planning to do all supervision yourself.

I am relieved that this miserable rule is about to change: February 23rd of this year, the Dutch parliament (Tweede Kamer) has passed an Internationalization Law to bring PhD supervision more in line with the rest of the world (for an English summary, see this Science Guide article).

However, the vote for this law in the Dutch Senate (Eerste Kamer) still needs to take place, scheduled for June 6. Much to my surprise, the preliminary reports by the Senate committee raised all sorts of concerns. The senators advocate a hierarchical model in which the full professor is “responsible for the discipline” — a notion at odds with the modern principal investigator approach in which all researchers are peers. The senators are afraid of “undesirable friction”, thereby assuming that making the roles of co-advisors explicit increases rather than decreases friction. The senators gratuitously worry that extending the ius promovendi to non-full professors will reduce the quality of the supervision. The senators argue that granting the right to supervise at the end of a career, is an attractive way of encouraging young professors to engage in such a career. Lastly, in line with the advice of the Raad van State, the senators wonder “whether there is a real problem requiring a new law”.

Answers to these concerns and questions will be provided by the Dutch Minster of Education, after which the senators will vote. Despite the senators’ concerns, the general expectation is that the law will pass. In preparing her answer, the minister can use a wide range of documents arguing the need for this change, e.g., by the Young Academy and the ILLC Research School.

The Dutch Young Academy lists nine key concerns with the current regulation. They argue that the current law is disconnected from reality in academic life, resulting in insufficient recognition (in reputation, financially, and when competing for grants) for the non-full professors involved. The Young Academy also points out that the present situation makes The Netherlands unattractive for talented researchers seeking to pursue an academic career in The Netherlands (as a point of reference, in my department half of the faculty is non-Dutch). Besides this, the ILLC in its letter (in English) to the executive board of the University of Amsterdam emphasizes problems related to quality control, arguing that in many areas it will be hard to find a full professor who is the actual expert in the field.

Yet besides being problematic for assistant and associate professors, restricting formal responsibility for PhD supervision to full professors directly hurts PhD students:

  • It can lead to unclear expectations at the very start of a PhD project, when students deciding whether to accept a PhD position need to understand whether they will be working with the full professor or the non-full professor doing the daily supervision.

  • It can lead to confusion during the PhD project, for example when the full professor and co-advisor express different ideas or opinions. Since the full professor is in a position of power, the student may be reluctant to disagree with the full professor.

  • It can lead to an unclear CV of the student, who needs to explain the role of extra advisors (and sometimes even extra co-authors) to new international employers unfamiliar with the Dutch laws.

  • It can lead to publication restrictions for the PhD student, even if the full professor abstains from active involvement in the research. A case in point are ACM rules that in a strict interpretation forbid research students to submit a paper if their advisor is program chair even if that advisor ultimately has a mere ceremonial role in the PhD project. Extra advisors here means fewer publication options.

In the past 10 years, I witnessed each of these problems in my many interactions with PhD students and co-advisors under the Dutch regulations (I have worked with seven different non-full professor co-supervisors, and with over 35 past and current PhD students). In my group we try to take the most liberal interpretation of the regulations, handing over supervision responsibilities to the co-advisors as much as possible. Despite this, the bizarre limitations for non-full professors percolate through the PhD process, and affect all involved negatively.

To remedy these problems, I trust the senate will vote in favor of the changes to the law.

After that, it is up to the universities to take advantage of this law, and change their own doctoral regulations. The ILLC has various useful suggestions. For example, they call for always appointing two supervisors (a good idea already in place at various universities). Given the new law, it then becomes possible to make the young assistant professor (who, e.g., has obtained the grant) the primary supervisor, and to involve a second supervisor in a more advisory role (i.e., not carrying executive responsibility for the success of the PhD). Drafting these new regulations in a way that is most beneficial to the PhD students, and getting them approved will take some time, but I am confident the improvement will be worth the effort.

I call on all Dutch senators to vote in favor of the new law. Once approved, I expect that Dutch universities will revise their doctoral regulations to make full use of the new legal possibilities, to the benefit of PhD students in The Netherlands and (young) faculty alike. Where needed, I pledge to use my influence, for example as head of department at TU Delft, to make this happen.

UPDATE 7 June 2017: In response to the questions from the Dutch senators, the VSNU (the Association of Dutch Universities) and the presidents of the Dutch Universities provided an addendum explaining how they would implement the law in their regulations. In particular, this addendum emphasizes that universities will grant the “ius promovendum” to associate professors (“UHDs”), but not to assistant professors. Given this addendum, the Senate passed the internationalization law on June 6, 2017.

Image credit: Joachim Schlosser, Flickr.

Managing Complex Spreadsheets — The Story of PerfectXL

This week we finished grading of the software architecture course I’m teaching.

Like many teachers, I use a spreadsheet for grading together with my co-teachers and teaching assistants. In this case, we concurrently worked with five people on a Google Spreadsheet. The resulting spreadsheet is quite interesting:

  • The spreadsheet currently has 22 sheets (tabs)

  • There are input sheets for basic information on the over one hundred students in the class, the groups they form, and the rubrics we use.

  • There are input sheets from various forms the students used to enter course-related information

  • There are input sheets for different sub-assignments, which the teachers and assistants use to enter subgrades for each rubric: Some grades are individual, others are per team. Such sheets also contain basic formulas to compute grades from rubrics.

  • There are overview sheets collecting the sub-grades from various sheets, combining them to overall grades. The corresponding formulas can become quite tricky, involving rounding, lookups, sumproducts, thresholds, conditional logic based on absence or presence of certain grades, etc.

  • There are various output sheets, to report grades to students, to export grades to the university’s administrative systems, and to offer diagrams showing grade distributions for educational assessments of the course.

The spreadsheet used has a history of five years: Each year we take the existing one, copy it, and remove the student data. We then adjust it to the changes we made to the course (additional assignments, new grading policies, better rubrics, etc).

Visualization of sheet dependencies

All in all, this spreadsheet has grown quite complex, and it is easy to make a mistake. For example, I once released incorrect grades — a rather stressful event both for my students and myself. And all I did wrong was forgetting the infamous false argument needed in a vlookup — despite the fact that I was well aware of this “feature”. For the this year’s spreadsheet we had duplicate student ids, in a column where each row had to be unique, leading to a missing grade, and again extra effort and stress to resolve this as soon as possible.

I suspect that if you use spreadsheets seriously, for example for grading, you recognize the characteristics of my spreadsheet — and maybe your sheets are even more complicated.

Now I have an interest in spreadsheets that goes beyond that of the casual user: As a software engineering researcher, I have looked extensively at spreadsheets. I did this together with Felienne Hermans, first when she was doing her PhD under my supervision in the context of the Perplex project (co-funded by Microsoft) and then in the context of the Prose project (funded by the Dutch STW agency). From a research perspective, these projects were certainly successful, leading to a series of publications in such venues as ECOOP 2010, ICSE 2011-2013, ICSM, EMSE, and SANER.

But we did our research not just to publish papers: We also had (and have) the ambition to actually help the working spreadsheet user, as well as large organizations that depend on spreadsheets for business-critical decision making.

To that end, we founded a company, Infotron, which offers tooling, services, consultancy, and training to help organizations and individuals become more effective with their spreadsheets.

After several years of operating somewhat under the radar, the Infotron team (headed by CEO Matéo Mol) has now launched an on line service, PerfectXL, in which users can upload a spreadsheet and get it analyzed. The service then helps in the following ways:

  • PerfectXL can visualize the architectural dependencies between sheets, as shown above for my course sheet;
  • PerfectXL can identify risks (such as the vlookup I mentioned, interrupted ranges, or overly complex conditional logic);
  • PerfectXL can assess the structure and quality of the formulas in your sheet.

If this sounds interesting, you can try out the service for free at There are various pricing options that help Infotron run and further grow this service — pick the subscription that suits you and your organization best!

Even if you decide not to use the PerfectXL service, the site contains a lot of generally useful information, such as various hints and tips on how to create and maintain well-structured spreadsheets.


A South African Perspective on Privacy and Intelligence

The Dutch government has proposed a new law on intelligence and security services (“Wet op de inlichtingen- en veiligheidsdiensten” — Wiv20XX).

As several privacy-related organizations have made clear, this law proposes non-specific (bulk) interception powers for any form of telecom or data transfer without independent ex-ante review or court involvement (see the summary by Matthijs Koot, and reactions on the bill by Bits of Freedom, Privacy International, the Institute for Information Law of the University of Amsterdam IVIR, and the Internet Society ISOC).

This bill gives the Dutch government unprecedented power to violate the privacy of its citizens. Either the Dutch government does not recognize the crucial role of privacy in a well-functioning democracy, or it does not realize what enormous privacy infringements are made possible through Internet surveillance.

Book cover Sachs' Soft Vengeance

When discussing the importance of privacy, I am always reminded of South Africa’s anti-apartheid activist Albie Sachs and his autobiography “The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter” (first published in 1990, and turned into a film in 2014).

As a law student at the University of Capetown, Albie Sachs started fighting apartheid at the age of 17, in 1952. He was imprisoned from 1963-1964 (solitary confinement) and again in 1966, after which he was exiled from his home country South Africa.

In 1988, living in Maputo, Mozambique, he lost his right arm and an eye when his car was bombed by the South African secret police.

From 1991 until 1993, after Nelson Mandela’s release in 1990, Albie Sachs played a pivotal role in the negotiations leading to the new South African constitution.

In 1994 Nelson Mandela appointed him as judge of the highest court of South Africa, the Constitutional Court. He worked for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission between 1995 and 1998.

Albie Sachs wrote his Soft Vengeance in 1989. Nelson Mandela was still in prison, and the struggle against Apartheid was not won yet. Albie Sachs had just lost his arm and eye, and his book was his attempt to cope with his injuries.

For his recovery he was flown into a London hospital. He noticed that he was remarkably optimistic, and he was wondering why. Here is his reason (p.58):

“Perhaps part of my pleasure at being in this hospital room is that I am fairly sure it is not bugged. Sometimes I used to imagine my phone in Maputo being listened in to by at least three different secret services […]”

“Possibly my continuing sense of post-bomb euphoria comes from the fact that at least for the time being I am out of the net of hidden sensors, my spirit free from spying for the first time in three decades.”

He explains what it means to be surveilled:

“Ever since I was seventeen I have been politically active, I have lived with the notion that there are others accompanying every move I make, listening to every word I say.”

“Did the secret police really follow every up and down of my marriage, pick up the terms of our divorce, record automatically the names of our children even before they were entered in the birth register?”

And this gives rise to his dream for the future:

“I too have a dream, that there will one day be a world without police files, and bugged rooms, and tapped telephones, and intercepted mail, and that I will actually live in it.”

Albie Sachs is not alone in his dream. According to article 12 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we all have a right to privacy:

“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

To date, the Internet has given us amazing possibilities to communicate with our family and friends, to search, read, and share information on almost any topic we find interesting, and to shop for almost any item we think we need. As a software engineering educator and researcher, I am proud to have played a tiny part in making this happen.

Unfortunately, the Internet can also be used as a place for massive surveillance activities, at levels that, for example, the South African apartheid regime could only have dreamed of. As a software engineer, I am terrified by the technical opportunities the Internet provides to governments wishing to know everything about their citizens.

A government aimed at drafting a modern intelligence bill should recognize this immense power, and take responsibility to safeguard the necessary privacy protection.

The Dutch government has failed to do so. It has proposed a bill with insufficient independent oversight, a bill that oppressive regimes, such as the former South African regime, would be happy to embrace.

Luckily, the present bill is still a draft. I sincerely hope that the final version will offer adequate privacy protection, and bring the world closer to the dream of Albie Sachs.