“I have so much respect for that woman,” a student says to her friends in the corridor of the Ipanema hall of the Bonnefanten museum. She is talking about Rianne Letschert, rector of Maastricht University. Letschert was the guest at the Maastricht version of the well-known TV programme College Tour last Thursday. Where normally the presenter of the national variant regularly flings critical questions at his guests, this evening was mainly a nice insight into the life of the rector. For example, what does she do on a Sunday morning?
Hosts Fred Leclaire from 'Hiere vaan Wyck' and Lisa Manders from Koko – the two parties who organised the College Tour – start the evening off with the rules of the game. In principle, both will work from their cards, but questions in-between are allowed. “Just raise your hand and stand up when the microphone comes your way.”
“Take a seat professor,” Leclaire says. Letschert: “Please, call me Rianne, after all it is after eight.” Leclaire starts off with congratulations for Letschert's election to ‘Top Woman of the year’. “What are you most proud of?” Leclaire asks. Letschert: “The two other competitors worked in businesses. The past few years, the winner was always someone from that sector. I also see my award as recognition for leadership in the public sector.”
It is hard to hear what Letschert says, there is interference in her microphone. A technician walks towards the stage. The rector's earrings are ticking against the microphone and need to be removed. “Technology is not ready for female leadership yet,” Letschert jokes.
“How do you feel about the fact that Eindhoven University is only taking on women?” a woman in the audience asks. Letschert: “For six months, Eindhoven has only been looking at job applications from women. This has met with a lot of opposition; they even have to justify their decision before the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights. The rector in Eindhoven has already taken various measures to attract more women, but without success. He is now resorting to more radical means in order to force a breakthrough. I support that. The number of female professors in Maastricht is also too low. It is less than 20 per cent at some faculties. I want that to be at least 30 per cent, research has shown that after that it becomes more normal. I would like a quota for faculties that lag behind.”
Nevertheless, Letschert occasionally wonders why women “wanted to emancipate. Why am I not just playing tennis with a coach?” Leclaire's previous question: “How do you do it, such a complex job?” Letschert: “It is hard work, eighty hours a week, but you do get used to it. In the first year, a lot of time goes into reading dossiers, but it now goes quicker and quicker.” And very important: “I had to learn how to say ‘no’.”
A logical question from a student following from this is: “How do you combine work and private life?” Letschert: “I am very strict in that. Friday evening is sacred, that is family time. We sit on the sofa and watch The Voice, for example. I take my daughter Julia, who is eight, to her hockey game on Saturday morning, and then we do the normal stuff, like shopping. We have breakfast together on Sunday morning, then I read my newspapers and I go for a run. I start work again at two o'clock, often together with my son Joep, who is thirteen and then does his homework. I used to go out with my girlfriends, but I don't do that so much now. It is not always easy, but that part of the deal.”
One of the final questions for Letschert, who is from Brabant, does not come from the audience, but from a screen at the back of the stage. It is from governor Theo Bovens, the College Tour candidate from last year. “’t Limburgs dialek woort dit joar es ‘n officiële taol aongestèld. Iech hub zelfs gehuurd dat d’ch oondertösse ouch ’n bieteke Mestreechs proat. Mer wienie kinne d’n ierste studenten in ’t dialek studere? ’t Leefs in ‘t Mestreechs. Daan zien geer pas ech internationaol.” (The Limburg dialect has been declared as an official language this year. I have heard that by now you also speak some 'Mestreechs'. But when can the first students study in dialect? Preferably in 'Mestreechs'. Only then would you really be international). [Apologies for any spelling or grammar mistakes, there was a cross-check with the ‘Mestreechse dictionair’, YM]. The audience laughs and applauds. “We do have a professor of dialects at our university, Leonie Cornips, but I don't think there will ever be a degree in Limburgs. But I did understand it,” Letschert laughs.