UM’s 45th anniversary: empathic speech by rector in an empty St. Jan


MAASTRICHT. ?A great deal of understanding for the difficult circumstances in which staff and students have found themselves for some time now. At the same time, a lot of praise for what has been achieved this past year, despite – or maybe because – of COVID-19. Rector Rianne Letschert held an empathic speech in celebration of the 45th anniversary of Maastricht University.

In an empty St. Jans church – without prize winners, without the future honorary doctor Jaap van Dissel, and with her gown, cap and rector’s chain on a mannequin beside the pulpit – Rianne Letschert praised the students. Their study results don’t seem to have suffered because of the crisis. But she is also worried about their well-being. She impresses upon them that studying is more than just achieving good grades. It is also about developing skills that are hugely important to the rest of your life: flexibility, perseverance, resilience, looking after yourself properly, physically and mentally, and last but not least, dealing with adversity.

COVID-19 has caused a lot of sorrow and stress, but it also became a catalyst and experimental plot for innovation, said Letschert. Not just when it comes to education, which went from on campus to online and hybrid overnight, but also working from home is now really in the picture, just like the need to be more flexible when it comes to “obligations and activities” that staff members have outside work.


The rector finished optimistically. “We have overcome tremendous obstacles.” Employees have shown that they make their contributions to society in various ways: as researchers, leaders, parents, etcetera. Various roles that will receive recognition with the introduction of the Recognition and Appreciation project for scientists (a national initiative of which Letschert is the figurehead and that should have been the celebration day theme).

As she had said before, Letschert cannot wait to launch a similar national programme for support staff as well, and in that way improve the career tracks for them too.

Please unmute

Innovations don’t come without a struggle. And they can only be successful, if “we do it together,” the rector emphasised. “Suggestions and feedback” from all corners of the UM are crucial. Or: “Please unmute – I want to hear what you have to say.”

Prize winners and honorary doctorate

Normally, a number of prizes are awarded during the foundation day celebrations; this will now happen during the Opening of the Academic Year on 30 August 2021. Things like the annual prizes for the best theses by bachelor’s and master’s students, there is the Edmond Hustinx prize for science for Laure Wynants from FHML, the Wijnand Wijnen education prize for the heads of the education bureaus René Nijssen from FHML, Catharien Kerkman from FPN, Collin Prumpeler from FASoS, Joel Castermans from SBE, Roel Gilissen from LAW and Judith Buddenberg from FSE. Matteo Bonelli from LAW is to receive the dissertation prize.

On 30 August, professor Jaap van Dissel, head of the RIVM and the Outbreak Management Team, will receive an honorary doctorate.


UM’s 45th anniversary: empathic speech by rector in an empty St. Jan
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Author: Riki Janssen

Stills from video

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