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“She should be aware of the tremendous dissatisfaction among academic staff”

“She should be aware of the tremendous dissatisfaction among academic staff”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes

Who should succeed rector Luc Soete?

Rector magnificus Luc Soete is leaving. On 1 September, his successor will take over. Who should that be? And what should he/she do especially? Observant will ask students and staff this question in the coming weeks.

“Whether I have that ambition myself? No way, I prefer to spend my time doing more pleasant things,” says Aalt Willem Heringa, professor of Constitutional Law and former dean of the Faculty of Law, laughing. “The rector should be the figurehead of this university, visible and multifaceted. Harald Merckelbach would be an excellent candidate. He has so much to offer: he is a good scientist, has been a manager [dean of the Faculty of Psychology and Neurosciences], he teaches and writes columns in a national newspaper. He is an amiable man. I think that he has the power to unite, making the faculties at Randwyck and the inner city feel they are part of the same thing. “A rector should value and support disciplines that suffer financial difficulties, such as the liberal arts, regardless of opposition and criticism from outsiders.”

According to Heringa, education should bepart of the rector’s portfolio. “Choices aren’t made for eternity,” alluding to the UM’s appointment of the vice rector of education at the end of 2014 - as was said at the time “to promote educational innovation”. Heringa describes education as “a matter of permanent concern. We come up against Problem-Based Learning, it is having a paralysing effect. We are committed to regulations, but we are, for example, also tied to smaller tutorial spaces. Moreover, most faculties in the city centre have a huge teaching burden. So huge that research suffers as a result. A rector needs to help us here and think with us about solutions.”

Regulations state that the rector should be recruited from the pool of professors at Maastricht University. But how does Heringa feel about an external candidate? “That is less obvious, although in principle I am not against it. For a new rector, it is useful to know the institute, but it can also be a handicap. People have an opinion about you, but anyway, as a manager you make choices and you cannot avoid stepping on people’s toes.”
Finally: “A rector should be accessible for students. Housing foreign students in our city is a matter that needs attention. If we wish to maintain the current numbers, something needs to change. Such as better facilities. The sports centre is a beautiful thing, but what about associations or festivities? The city should participate more in this area. If I look at Leiden, for example, I see that the entire town of Leiden has an open day when the university opens its doors, whereas here in Maastricht it is just the university that has an open day. That’s a pity.”

“I know an outstanding candidate: Simone Buitendijk”, e-mails Lies Wesseling, professor at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and director of the Centre for Gender and Diversity, at the end of February. At that time, it is not known that Buitendijk, vice rector at the University of Leiden, will be moving to London where she will become Vice Provost of Imperial College. But for Wesseling she remains an ideal candidate. “I have often met her at congresses and conferences. She is extremely intelligent and inspiring. She is also very accessible, eloquent and connecting. She manages to get people to put their differences aside, to not compete but co-operate.” Buitendijk studied Medicine; her research concentrates on the role of gendered research in health care.
Aside from the fact that Buitendijk has accepted another position, the UM is bound by the regulation that the new rector is selected from the professors at Maastricht University. “I didn’t know that,” Wesseling reacts. “That is a strange rule. They would do well to abolish that. I would welcome an outsider. I think there is something awkward about professors recommending their favourite to the committee from their own ranks.”
Okay, so not Buitendijk, but Wesseling feels that there should definitely be a woman in charge. “We are the youngest university in the Netherlands and hopefully not the last one with a diverse Executive Board? I think Hildegard Schneider, dean of the Faculty of Law, would be a good internal candidate. She has a great deal of management experience, a large network, and knows how to connect people. She also has broad intellectual interests.”

Wesseling hopes that the new rector “should be aware of the tremendous dissatisfaction among academic staff, expressed at a national level in Science in Transition and the Platform Hervorming Nederlandse Universiteiten. A rector should not just listen to The Hague, but also to its personnel on the work floor. We have had three decades of cutbacks, while demands and standards have been raised. Slowly but surely we have reached a breaking point. I don’t believe that the sciences are troubled as much, but it is extremely visible at humanities and social sciences. Just look at the yellow cards and problems concerning the re-accreditation of study programmes in Maastricht and elsewhere. It is strange, don’t you think, that as universities we have not even tried to form one front? That all of us together haven’t said: We can’t go on like this any longer. Of course I also blame myself for that, but I see it as a role for the rector.”

“It has to be a woman,” says Christoph Rausch, lecturer at University College and representative of VAWO (union for the sciences) in the Local Consultative Body (a meeting of unions and the Executive Board). “Moreover, our management regulations state that it has to be a professor from the UM. That is a good thing too, because someone from our own ranks has a connection with the Maastricht university community. Furthermore she will need to have both feet planted firmly on the ground: so teaching and doing research. Also, the new rector should come from the city centre faculties, because the humanities and social sciences are under a lot of pressure. They need someone who is also on their side when it comes to the social relevance of their research and education. Adding all that together, I end up with Hildegard Schneider, the present dean of the Faculty of Law. She has already proven her managerial qualities, while continuing to teach and carry out research.”

But, Rausch continues, it would be nice if a young female professor were to rule the roost. “We have relatively few female professors, the men are still in the majority, but we have enough young women who are suitable for this position. Too many to mention.”

Then there is someone else whom he wants to put forward: “She has already retired, so she does not come under the category ‘young’, but she is a great example to me in science: professor Maaike Meijer.” Laughing: “She could continue her research within the Executive Board on the cultural illusion of manliness.”

One more thing, he adds: “How many women have actually been interviewed for this column?”

Wendy Degens, Riki Janssen



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