Stills from the digital opening of the academic year. UM President Martin Paul and keynote speaker prof. Eric Mazur
Opening of the 2020 academic year
MAASTRICHT. The choice of theme ‘After the storm’ was somewhat optimistic, President Martin Paul admitted during the opening ceremony of the academic year at Tapijn barracks, which could be followed this year via a livestream. The COVID-19 pandemic is, after all, still in full swing. But that won’t prevent Maastricht University from working on its objectives, he emphasised.
Paul takes to the stage after a slightly ironical introduction, in which there is a film trailerish countdown to the livestream, that is watched by more than 2,700 people. The president is brief this year. One by one, he sums up eight ambitions that the UM has. Continuing to improve education, also online, reducing work pressure – whether or not caused by COVID-19 – and maintaining contact with the region and the rest of the world.
Social involvement is also important to him. “We must dedicate ourselves to social challenges such as climate change, energy transition, and sustainability in general.” He mentions combatting racism – “both on an individual and an institutional level” –as a separate item. “We will continue to be alert regarding inequality, broaden our curriculum and create an inclusive, safe environment for all members of our community.” He ends his speech with a quote by Abraham Lincoln: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
Paul is followed by keynote speaker Eric Mazur, who holds the Balkanski chair of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard University. In addition, Mazur is an education expert and has been asked to give his opinion on education during COVID-19. He briefly explains – later this week, there will be a seminar, where Mazur will answer questions elaborately – why he wants to spend almost all of his teaching time on mentorship this coming academic year.
Mazur applies his own variation of Problem-based Learning, in which he allows the students to study the subject matter beforehand and then asks questions during the lecture. They discuss the answers together. “Because a student can explain to another student much better how something is than I can. They have just learned it themselves, and know where the difficulties lie. They are not blighted by the curse of knowledge – knowing the subject matter so well that you skip steps in the explanation.”
Then it is time for the prizes. UCM student Arthur Bribosia was so happy when he heard during a Zoom meeting that he had won the Student Prize 2020 that he climbed a tree, and fell from it. With his arm in a plaster cast, the co-founder of Maastricht for Climate takes his place on the stage beside Rianne Letschert. She is not allowed to present him with the usual prize, flowers and three kisses, but can praise his efforts for a better climate; the three climate marches that Maastricht for Climate organised in the past years, the network that they set up with other sustainable organisations in the city, and the climate requirements that they set up for the city.
The Edmond Hustinx prize, aimed at “emphasising the importance of science in practice” and at accentuating the importance of the UM for Limburg, will not be awarded this year. The searching process started later than usual because of COVID-19, so there was not enough time to choose a winner. The prize will now be awarded during the celebration of the university’s foundation day in January.
As tradition dictates, the opening is ended with Beethoven’s Ode an die Freude, played this time by students from the Maastricht Academy of Music. They play from home in a video, accompanied by members of the university orchestra, in a partly classical and partly jazzy version.