"I will never forget this"
MAASTRICHT. And then suddenly, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands appears in the Zoom tutorial group meeting. That happened to the students at University College who were taking the Macrosociology block. What was that like? “Great!” “Quite an honour.” “That I get to experience that as a foreign student. I will never forget it.”
Yes, the students were a little nervous beforehand. But when Prime Minister Mark Rutte logged in from the VSNU building in The Hague at 10:06 hrs with “So, hello, how are things?” the ice was actually immediately broken, says tutor Mark Levels, professor of Health, Education and Work and programme director at the Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market, (Researchcentrum voor Onderwijs en Arbeidsmarkt, ROA). He wasn’t suffering from tension. “Not that I am such a cold fish, but I mainly thought it was a great honour that this man, who is dealing with so much, took the time to ask students how they were doing.” He was very interested, “asked lots of questions, listened well and made sure that almost all eleven students had their say. A very good communicator, extremely pleasant,” Levels summarises the visit.
He heard last week that the Prime Minister would join in – unless something urgent came up. The students were also aware of his participation beforehand. Levels: “We made two agreements. One: you say honestly what you think. Two: you treat the Prime Minister with respect. I complimented them afterwards. They did really well.”
Stijn Willemse is one of the students. “I thought it was exciting, mister Mark Rutte in the classroom. But it felt immediately very natural, very relaxed. He asked me what I thought of the subject of Sociology, whether we were able to use the corona crisis to test the theory of great thinkers against reality.” That did not fall on deaf ears. Willemse: “If you go to supermarket, you can see that everyone keeps the 1.5 metre distance. Adam Smith says that people take the best action for their own good and that is then the best for all of us. He refers to that as rational action.”
One last remark: “He is not the man of my party, I do not always agree with his political agenda, but I feel that he is dealing with the corona crisis incredibly well. I am proud to have him as Prime Minister of the Netherlands.”
Paulina Casas Velasco couldn’t believe it at first that she was going to meet the Prime Minister at Zoom: “This was really a very special moment for me as an international student. I am from Mexico, at the moment I am temporarily living with my Dutch boyfriend’s parents, I never imagined that the Prime Minister would be so involved with the students. He sees that we are having a difficult time. He was so interested, so friendly, I will never forget that.”
After Maastricht, the Prime Minister continued to attend a lesson at the University of Groningen, he also spoke with rector Rianne Letschert, her colleague in Groningen and the chairperson of the university association VSNU.