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Role models for young researchers

Role models for young researchers

UM celebrates 35th anniversary: honorary doctorates for five foreign researchers

Not six, but five internationally renowned researchers will receive an honorary doctorate from Maastricht University today, during the foundation day celebrations at the Vrijthof Theatre. They are professors Henry Levin, Kamil Ugurbil, Philip Alston, Parsu Parasuraman and Beate Kohler. Prospective honorary doctor Alfred Goldberg cannot attend the presentation because of an acute operation. The professor of cell biology at Harvard Medical School, who carries out research on loss of muscle mass, will receive the honorary doctorate next year during the foundation day celebrations. Observant spoke with the Maastricht honorary promoters about their laureates.



What does the customer expect?

UM-prof Jos Lemmink about Parsu Parasuraman, professor of Marketing at the University of Miami:

Parsu Parasuraman’s finest hour was in the autumn of 1985, when an article was published in the Journal of Marketing. The economist, originally from India, together with two co-authors, introduced a model for measuring the quality of services. This so-called Servqual model clearly met a need, because it was soon used outside its original field of IT and in the business community.

It is not surprising that it became popular among banks and consultancy agencies, because it is easy to use and practical. It offers companies a handle to improve their service levels, says honorary promoter Jos Lemmink, professor of marketing. “An important message is that the quality of a service is relative. One should always regard the service rendered in relation to the expectations of the customer. If the latter expects a faulty photocopier to be repaired within two hours, the photocopier company would do well to meet those expectations. In short, know what your customers expect.”

Parasuraman knows the School of Business and Economics well and occasionally taught PhD students there. “He is an amiable, quiet man. I know him personally. As a research assistant, I met him in the corridors of an American congress and I asked him if he could look at my thesis. ‘I will have a look at it,’ he said. For months I heard nothing, but suddenly there was a thick package in my letterbox. He had read the piece from front to back and had added his comments.”


“Kicked many a sacred cow”

UM-prof Menno Kamminga about Philip Alston, professor of Law at New York University Law School:

A productive academic as well as a man of practical experience. A role model for young scholars, this is what Australian born lawyer Philip Alston is in the eyes of honorary promoter, professor Menno Kamminga, director of the Maastricht Centre of Human Rights.

Alston has worked for the United Nations since the eighties. In his present position as special reporter ‘on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions’ he travels around the world. Kamminga: “He reports, but also puts the pressure on, wherever necessary, to prevent executions, for example by involving the UN Secretary General. The great thing is that he combines this work with his research. He writes books and articles based on his findings.”

Alston gave a seminar in the law faculty yesterday, entitled Dilemmas of Fact Finding, about his experiences as a UN reporter. Kamminga: “Governments sometimes deny that an execution has taken place. An example is when a video from Sri Lanka emerged in 2009, showing blindfolded Tamil Tigers who were shot in the head from behind. The government in Sri Lanka insists that the images were fake, but Alston concluded that the video was authentic.” Alston had a number of experts look at it, including a forensic pathologist and a forensic video analyst.

And not unimportantly, according to Kamminga, he dares to kick sacred cows. “Human rights can be divided into freedom rights and socioeconomic rights (the right to health, education, et cetera). People in the west have always found the latter to be less important; this originates from the time of the Cold War. But Alston was one of the first to put these socioeconomic rights on an equal footing with freedom rights.”


Not in an ivory tower

UM-prof Tannelie Blom about Beate Kohler (1941), emeritus professor at the Universität Mannheim:

She was one of the first academics to put European integration on the research agenda, works in an interdisciplinary way, experimented with alternative teaching methods in Germany, a country that was not liberal in this field, and she was (indirectly) involved in the creation of the Maastricht programme of European Studies. Emeritus professor Beate Kohler (1941), working for the Universität Mannheim, is a “highly respected researcher”, says honorary promoter Tannelie Blom.

“It was with her that I came across the term multi-level governance for the first time. This concept, which is very important for European Studies, explains what is so special about the European political system: it is not a state that is governed, but there are several intertwined layers of power - national, subnational and supranational – and the EU’s power is not based on the traditional instruments but on such things as knowledge and information.”

Blom emphasises that Beate Kohler is not an academic who sits in her ivory tower. “She is a member of various different national and international academic organisations, she was chairwoman of the German political scientists' association and is very actively involved in raising research funding for large groups – she has even included Maastricht in a European project. She loves to travel. On a number of occasions, I travelled with her to China to set up a master’s programme of ES.” Kohler is already an honorary professor of the University of Oslo.

World-famous in imaging

UM-prof Rainer Goebel about Kamil Ugurbil, from the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, University of Minnesota:

He is world-famous in the field of high field imaging, says honorary promoter Rainer Goebel. “And because we are more and more involved in this too - in the Brains Unlimited project - he is the ideal person to be linked with.” Hence the honorary doctorate that Ugurbil will receive from Goebel this week. “We want his advice on all kinds of decisions, about the purchase of hardware and software, how to best cooperate in research.”

Ugurbil's centre in Minnesota is the reference point for all those who have anything to do with magnetic resonance imaging: “They are physicists, not psychologists like we are, they build their scanners to suit their requirements. It is very important to have friends there.

That's what Goebel and Ugurbil have become: friends. They met regularly at congresses in Sorrento, near Naples, where they went walking or visited a restaurant. “We like the same things, the scenery, limoncello. He is a very kind, helpful man, originally from Turkey, but he moved to the US after secondary school. He recently celebrated his 60th birthday in Istanbul with his family; he invited me too, but unfortunately I could not be there.”


“Productive, energetic and smart”

UM-prof Henriëtte Maassen van den Brink about Henry Levin, professor of Economics and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University:

“I met him in Stanford twenty years ago, together with my colleague Wim Groot.”
Henriëtte Maassen van den Brink, professor of Evidence-Based Education and honorary promoter of American professor Henry Levin, refers to him as the founding father of the education economics. He was the first scientist who managed to close the gap between education policies and education practice. As early as the nineteen-sixties, when he worked for the Brookings Institute in Washington, he carried out research that was used for the innovation of and advice on American education policies. He was also the first person to use cost-benefit analysis for educational interventions.” Levin graduated with distinction as an economist in 1960.
“He has been doing research in the field of education for more than thirty years, for example on the quality of teachers. He is the creator and director of the Accelerated Schools in the United States, a project in which schools are reformed as a whole in order to provide better education. The teachers receive help from scientists. He has more than 300 publications and 20 books to his name. In The price we pay, from 2007, he writes about the additional costs incurred by applying the wrong education policies.”
Even as a young scientist, Levin was critical. Maassen van den Brink refers to the so-called Coleman Report from 1966, a thick report on equality in education in the United States, written by James Coleman on behalf of the government. As far as the results were concerned: Levin was not impressed about the analyses used. “He felt they were wrong, and therefore the conclusions not based on evidence.”
Lastly, Maassen van den Brink calls him “productive, energetic and clever. He is a perfect fit for the objectives of TIER and TA (Top institute or Evidence-Based Education Research and the Teachers Academy Maastricht, ed.) and the UM’s Leading in Learning principle.”


Wammes Bos, Wendy Degens, Riki Janssen, Maurice Timmermans

Photos, from left to right: Henry Levin, Kamil Ugurbil, Beate Kohler, Parsu Parasuraman and Philip Alston



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