“Are you sure I can't help with the dishes?” rector Rianne Letschert asks as the evening is drawing to a close. No, say all in the student house on Vrijthof 27, located right next to Italian restaurant Gio’s. Just imagine, ‘their’ rector washing the dishes. “And don't forget to contact me if there is a problem or if you need anything. Recently, I was able to arrange a traineeship for an SBE student at a ministry in Rwanda. I was so glad that I could help. Use your network, I am part of that now.” Once they are outside on the Vrijthof, everyone receives a heartfelt kiss and with arms linked they quickly take a photo. An hour later, the photo adorns Letschert’s Twitter account.
They seem slightly overwhelmed when their guest, announced as the “most powerful woman at the UM,” takes her place at the table. This has nothing to do with the preparations. The three Germans (Analena Schnorbach, Kristina Haarbeck, Clemens Hannen), the Belgian (Eva Carron) and the Dutchman (Bohdi Bakker) have set the table beautifully, the rosé is chilled, and the red fish curry is almost ready. As luck will have it, the cleaning lady had come by for her twice-monthly cleaning spree of the communal kitchen that very day. But when the starter (melon with raw ham), decoratively arranged in a bowl, is placed on the table, they forget that the host should always be served first. Fortunately, the rector doesn't seem to pay any attention to this and says, after a toast to the best-located student house in Maastricht: “May we start?” To immediately add: “Oh, I am being spoilt.”
Upon arrival, she first admired the house. High ceilings, a back garden where the bicycles are parked, a view of the Sint Servaas church, the Albert Heijn (supermarket) herb garden on the windowsill and Bakker's room on the ground floor: “Do you all have your own bathroom? Such luxury. And it looks so neat.” She wants to know (the language spoken this evening is English) whether Bakker, with the single glazing in his room, has much of a problem with all the partying on the Vrijthof. “It's not too bad.” He first and foremost sees the advantages of this house: “I attend André Rieu's concerts for free every year. I would never play his music, but the concerts are terrific, the atmosphere is really special with those fans all singing and dancing. This year, he will give ten concerts (the rector: “I may be going on the Sunday”). I have visitors every day, my parents, an aunt, friends. The whole Vrijthof is closed off, but inhabitants get a pass for themselves and for their guests. I can see the large screen from my room and part of the stage.”
Letschert wants to know whether they often eat together, calling herself “a really bad cook”. Well not really, it is more like “cooking apart eating together,” Haarbeck explains. The kitchen is more of a meeting place where Hannen in particular spends a lot of time.
Bakker recently read an interview with the rector in the weekly magazine Elsevier. “You looked very relaxed.” Letschert: “They always want to know how I combine the rectorship with running a family. They would never ask a male colleague that question. I have decided that I will never give such interviews again. I will only speak about the university, the research and our education.” But now she has mentioned it herself, Schnorbach wants to know how old the children are. “A son who is eleven and a daughter of seven.” And also, it seems that not only journalists want to know how she manages everything with two children, a husband, and a house in Helmond? “I stay in a hotel three evenings a week, but I am looking for a studio so that my lives become less separate, and the children can come to Maastricht.” Come and live here, we have two independent studios on the top floor, Carron and Bakker suggest half seriously.
The rector - always thinking of work - takes the opportunity to ask her hosts a few questions. How do you like the PBL? That depends on the group, says Hannen. He doesn't like “awkward silences”, nor “fighting to have his say”. But in general, they are full of praise. Schnorbach: “We often don't realise how much we learn because of PBL. I recently had a workshop in Mannheim and I noticed how natural it was for us to participate in discussions.”
Letschert then refers to the discussion in the media and politics about Dutch universities providing too many courses in English, Maastricht leading the way. “They say that we only do so because foreign students bring in money. They tend to forget that foreign students spend more here than they cost.” IB student Haarbeck is surprised: how can you study International Business other than in English? How is that possible, Schnorbach wonders, “The Dutch are so open, everyone speaks English?”
“Are we digital enough?” the rector asks “Oh yes, certainly compared to Germany,” is Haarbeck’s reaction. “I was able to see the results of my exams online at Christmas. My German friends were really impressed.” And do they think that all lectures should be recorded? No, not really. Schnorbach likes going to lectures, even feels it is “impolite” to stay at home. The conversation comes round to statistics lecturer Christian Kerckhoffs at SBE, who addresses students quite explicitly during lectures. “Nobody dares show up late, he is old-fashioned, works without PowerPoint, but does put photos of students on Instagram. He is so popular.”
It is time to go. Letschert: “Shall we eat again together in a year's time? See how everyone has done?” Great. By that time, four out of the five present should have completed their bachelor’s, and the bottle of champagne - a gift from the rector - can be broached.