Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes
Professor Mathieu Segers shares a meal with student tennis club Stennis
“You get the best piece”, says medical student Laura Oostewechel proudly as she places an enormous portion of vegetable quiche in front of Mathieu Segers, dean of University College Maastricht. “I don’t know if you’re allergic to anything?” And then, before waiting for the professor’s reply, “If so, too late now.” Segers may not have allergies, he chuckles, but he might overdose on vitamins with this many vegetables. “I rarely eat this healthily. I’ll be leaving here completely revitalised.”
It’s Wednesday evening, half past five. The table is set nicely, quiche in the oven, dessert as good as done; only the “avocado fan” needs to be added to the salad. From the hallway of the Heugemerweg 13, the shared kitchen resembles a cosy chicken coop ringing with laughter and chatter. “Can we please finally know who’s coming to dinner?” they plead. “Mathieu Segers? Dean of UCM? Wies, you should know him, you’re studying there.” Renske Meijer, Roos Pijnenburg and Oostewechel look at her expectantly. But all Wies Stevens knows is that “a dean is the same as a decaan”. It’s “high”, in any event, they conclude cheerfully.
Segers tells them to address him informally and the four take him up on this straight away. “Which is better, the north or the south?” asks Meijer on hearing that their guest recently moved from Utrecht to Maastricht. “I wouldn’t know, I’m no nit-picker – and anyway I was born in Maastricht.” “Oh,” Oostewechel replies, “but you don’t have an accent!” He used to, but it’s faded after 21 years away from Limburg. “Can you still speak dialect?” He’s out of practice, Segers admits, although his father has always spoken the Maastricht dialect with him. The students look worried. “But you do understand your dad?” Just about, he laughs.
The students come from Brabant (Pijnenburg and Meijer), Nijmegen (Stevens) and Terwolde. “You don’t want to be caught dead there”, jokes Oostewechel. “We have more cows than people.” But, she sighs, at least there are more guys around than in their tennis club. Like the rest of the university, Stennis has a disproportionate number of women – 70 female to 30 male students – and, they sigh unanimously, it’s not healthy. “The guys who join are ruined after six months. They can take their pick of the women. And the rest turn out to be gay. That’s Stennis syndrome.” Segers, still fairly new to UM, is surprised. “There are more women than men in Maastricht?” There sure are, and the four miss “the testosterone”. Little wonder that Stennis has a thriving exchange programme with the tennis club at Eindhoven University of Technology, where the men far outnumber the women. At UCM, too, the “gender balance is a point of attention”, the dean says. “We’re looking at our student population at the moment because we need to make sure we’re not attracting just one type of student. Women are doing well in education across the board; they get better marks and have more discipline and sense of responsibility. All things that are very important. But you also need creativity, pluck and independent thinking. Men more often have that pluck, take more risks, but therefore also cause more collateral damage.”
Any awkwardness has by now vanished from the table, if it was ever there. “More wine?” one of the students offers. “A bit, I still need to drive to Scharn to pick up my son from soccer practice”, Segers replies. “Oh, that’s not far”, Oostewechel decides, and pours him some more. So how old are you, the girls ask. “Forty? Really? You don’t have any wrinkles”, Oostewechel blurts out. “I thought you were much younger.” When Segers says he has three children (the oldest is ten), Stevens asks if they moved with him. They did, comes the reply, during the autumn holiday. Pijnenburg is full of empathy: “Halfway through the school year! Gosh, how are they finding it – new school, new friends, new soccer team?” They’re fairly positive, their father thinks.
The conversation turns to the students’ favourite haunt, Ma van Sloun, and nearby UCM, where Stevens, a psychology student, is taking several classes. “Do you like it?” Segers asks, interested. She sure does. “Psychology is taught on a much bigger scale and the students are generally less motivated. At first I was a bit intimidated. Everyone seemed so smart, but fortunately they’re also really nice. I’m glad I now know this sort of teaching exists too.”
Next comes a question the students prepared earlier for their guest. “Trump is going to be the new president of the USA. What does that mean for us?” “A minor or major disaster”, Segers says, launching into a mini-lecture. “Perhaps the first lady, who comes from Europe, can temper him a bit. Trump is rattling the foundations of NATO, the North Atlantic partnership that has for decades been a kind of deterrent when it comes to security. An attack on one state is an attack on all; we’re supposed to protect one another. NATO expanded after the fall of the Wall, but the Russian president Putin wants the Baltic states back. Putin has already shown in Ukraine that he’s not afraid. If it now turns out Trump is not planning to protect those countries, that could give Putin ideas. The world will not be a safer place with Trump in the White House.” But no, Segers continues, they don’t have to start building a bunker yet, as Oostewechel suggests.
“Have you achieved what you wanted to in life?” Stevens asks. Gosh, Segers replies. “I don’t know if I had such clear-cut ideas. I wanted to do something in international politics, or be a professional soccer player.” The latter wasn’t on the cards, and eventually he quit at the age of 31. “The level was getting lower and the risks higher. There was too much chance of injury.” “You still have your son”, Stevens laughs. Segers chuckles. “I’m investing in him now.”
As their “high” guest prepares to leave, the tennis ladies take their shot. “Say,” says Oostewechel, “any chance you can organise some funding for our anniversary gala and the club?” “And a few tennis courts maybe?” Stevens adds.
Mathieu Segers * 40 * dean of University College Maastricht and professor of Contemporary European History and European Integration * married, two daughters (aged 5 and 10) and a son (8) * lives in Maastricht
Wies Stevens * 21 * psychology student minoring at UCM * active member and former board member of student tennis club Stennis
Laura Oostewechel * 22 * third-year medical student * active member of Stennis
Renske Meijer * 20 * third-year medical student * active member and former board member of Stennis
Roos Pijnenburg * 21 * second-year psychology * third-year music academy student (vocals) * active member of Stennis
Stars given by Professor Mathieu Segers (maximum of five stars):
Cleanliness: 5 stars
Hospitality: 5 stars “Couldn’t have hoped for more; a blend of humility, openness and spontaneity”
Food: 4 stars “I’m leaving healthier than I arrived”