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"About time the position went to a woman"

"About time the position went to a woman"

Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes

Rector Luc Soete is stepping down. His successor will start 1 September. In the following weeks Observant will ask students and staff: who is supposed to take over? And what should he/she work on most?

Professor of Private Law, Ton Hartlief, recently appointed as Solicitor-General with the Supreme Court of the Netherlands, wrote down a name (for the first time) when he was asked - as all other professors were - whether he would like to nominate any candidates. He chose professor of Forensic Psychology, Harald Merckelbach. Why him?

“I expect a rector to be a serious researcher and that is what Merckelbach is. He is also willing to enter the debate, as is testified by his columns in NRC Handelsblad. And I have understood - from others saying so, because it is not my faculty - that he was a solid manager when he was dean of Psychology. What also counts is the fact that he is a researcher working at the crossroads of humanities and social sciences, and probably also knows a thing or two about sciences. One would expect him to have an overall view.

“The new rector will have to deal with a major development: digitisation. This has a great impact on the university, not only for research, but certainly also for the education system. Recording lectures on video means that fewer students will attend in person. We are still booking the large lecture hall at Tongersestraat 53, but for an ever smaller group of students. We are about to see a generation of students who believe that following an education programme is the same as watching TV. At the same time, study group meetings, but also lectures, are increasingly interactive. Participants can ask questions, but must also give the answers.

“Education is important for a rector. I actually assumed that the position of vice rector for Education would no longer exist after Soete had left. Is that not the case? But what if the rector wants to be in charge of education again? After all, the rector is responsible for it. I imagine that a potential candidate will ask the selection committee: What about this vice rector?”

Anita Jansen, professor of Experimental Clinical Psychology: “No, I haven’t nominated anyone. In itself, it would a logical step if Harm Hospers, currently the vice rector for Education, would become rector, but that’s not going to happen, he wouldn’t do that. Then there is Albert Scherpbier, dean of FHML. He would be a really good one, the position would fit him like a glove. But it would be a pity too, because at FHML, he and Nanne de Vries make an excellent team.

“Actually, it’s about time that the position went to a woman, in the men’s club that is the Executive Board. Personally, I have not ambitions whatsoever in this field. But I could mention a few names: Karin Bijsterveld from FASoS, Sylvia Evers from FHML, or Henriette Maassen van den Brink from FHS.”

The profile states that the candidate should have broad management experience.

Jansen: “I don’t know if experience is all that important, because it doesn’t mean that you can actually do it. They should look for potential, more than anything else. And whether someone has the support of the work floor, because a job like this needs a great deal of support. And of course you have to get along with Martin Paul and Nick Bos.

“But above all, the rector should be a real academic, someone with solid roots in education and research. The problem is that real academics often have no ambition in that direction. As far as research is concerned, it would be good if the rector provides more support for attracting funding. We’re quite good at it already, but it could always be better. I have the impression that other universities get more out of Europe than we do.

“In terms of education, one should ask: Where do we want to go in Maastricht? Then again, Hospers is already doing that. The new rector will have to get along with him. I don’t know either how things will go if the rector wants to be more involved in that field. It is a unique construction, such a vice rector. It may be a wise idea, considering the fact that there’s a great deal to do in the field of education in Maastricht.”

Ingrid Wijk, director of the University Library: “A rector should have a vision of the future. You need not agree with it, but he should know where he wants to go with research and education. He should not be swayed by the issues of the day. Foresight is the essence of management.”

What should he or she address first? “A rector stands for scientific integrity and independence. What is the status of scientific integrity within the university? That’s what I would like to know. We have a Code of Conduct, we have committees, but how are the faculties implementing the policies? Can they guarantee that the UM will not overstep the mark? And I would ask questions about the visibility of scientific knowledge. How can we improve this? Another important issue that he should concentrate on, is open science. Not only when it comes to scientific articles, but also data. It would be good if all knowledge that exists on Ebola or the Zika virus, were to be available without any embargo, to anyone - researchers as well as the pharmaceutical industry - regardless of whether you can afford a subscription to a journal or not, so that we can boldly solve global issues.”

No, she does not want to mention any names. A man or a woman? What counts is quality, she says, but considering the composition of the Executive Board, a woman would be preferable. Laughing: “A Robberta Dijkgraaf, a female version of Robbert Dijkgraaf, I think I would like that.”

Wammes Bos/Riki Janssen

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