“He lacks contact with the average employee”

Maxim: the strengths and weaknesses of outgoing UM President Jo Ritzen


Jo Ritzen, President of the Executive Board, hasn’t give any explanation yet, but fact is that he will leave Maastricht University in February. He doesn’t aspire a third term as President. What were his strengths and weaknesses?

“He is good at launching ideas, his enthusiasm is contagious, as well as his openness, his vision,” says Maaike Meijer, professor at the Centre for Gender and Diversity. “But a leader has to persevere, to build, to create support, to finish things. Ritzen gives lots of assists but there’s no one at the goal to score. And Ritzen himself? He’s long gone. Once he called: ‘Maaike, I have a fantastic idea! Let’s organize a congress about the shortage of female professors. I said: ‘Jo, I got news for you: we are already working on it.’ He came up with many ideas and then… there was silence. What I especially dislike, is his rhetoric in which everything is ‘top’ or ‘excellent’. It’s okay to be self-confident but these words are no more than hollow phrases and don’t motivate people. I think what Ritzen lacks, is contact with the average employee.”

Pim Dassen, associate professor of Cardiology, thinks that Jo Ritzen’s huge external network is one of his largest strengths. “He also has a good memory for employees of the university. If he has seen you once, he will remember your name. He stood above matters and therefore he could come up with ideas without being hindered by people who stood in his way. I reckon he was a good counterweight for the people at central positions at the MUMC+. But – and now I come to his weakness – you need people who effectuate those great ideas. I feel his contact with the grass roots was insufficient. For instance, it wasn’t always clear who should take the initiative for projects. Take the Saudi medical students. They came here under the flag of internationalisation, but it caused a lot of practical problems. It was unclear who should deal with those problems, the faculty or the office of the university at the Minderbroedersberg, because it was unclear who was the driving force behind all this.”

“It’s his political style of doing things, which in my view is a strength and a weakness at the same time,” says student Joost van den Akker, a member of the university council. “His network, dating back to the days when he was education minister, has opened lots of doors for the UM. Ritzen has definitely strengthened the reputation of our university in Europe. On the other hand, he used his political finesse to influence decision-making and achieve his goals. That is an art in itself, but it has nothing to do with binding leadership. In another respect, he is too much of a politician as well. Is it desirable that he interferes in discussions on whether the electoral gain of the PVV party in Limburg is unfavourable for the university? It is likely that some employees and students voted for the PVV, and they don’t feel supported by their President.”


Maurice Timmermans/Cleo Freriks

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