“UM could become the Dutch university with the greatest impact”

The changing of rectors during Dies Natalis celebrations


Less modesty, more focus. That is what rector Pamela Habibović called for in her inaugural speech during the 46th Dies Natalis in the St. Janskerk last Thursday – in May, rather than in January, because they didn’t want an online changing of rectors. She also emphasised the importance of Recognition and Rewards: “Not everyone can be a star, but everyone who does good important work, contributes towards progress.” Her predecessor Rianne Letschert used her allotted speaking time to reminisce about the steps already taken. 

“It is a little weird to give a farewell speech when you have just started as President of Maastricht University,” Rianne Letschert began her speech, in the role of resigning rector. Nevertheless, she looked back over the past five and a half years. To the worries that she expressed when she took on the position, that the generation of academics after her had a more difficult time entering the academic world and that the atmosphere “that was worsening, and was at times even cynical”. To the complex problems that go hand in hand with sustainable employability, work pressure and a socially safe climate.

Steps have been taken to deal with these problems, but “the wheels of the university turn slowly.” Too slowly sometimes, for Letschert. “I need to be patient, which I am not, and ask myself: can the organisation cope with this, aren’t we moving too fast – questions that all leaders must ask themselves.” She promised to continue following the direction already embarked upon in the coming years in order to bring about systematic change, by means of Recognition and Rewards, the new Leadership Academy and the We Care project.

The new rector Pamela Habibović, who took to the pulpit after the official handover, was more explicit in her ambitions. “We may not be able to become the oldest or the largest university in the Netherlands, but we could become the university with the greatest impact.” As far as she is concerned, more time should be taken to reflect on what has already been achieved and to share that with the rest of the world.

Recognition and Rewards is a necessity, said Habibović. “If we continue to name our research groups after ourselves, continue to undervalue our lecturers and ignore the importance of our support staff, then we might create a couple of star scientists, but we won’t be fulfilling our role in society.”

She has a clear message for anyone who thinks that rewarding everyone will lead to mediocrity: “You are wrong.” According to Habibović, there is no room for mediocrity if you want to carry out proper interdisciplinary research. A thing that must be done in a world where everyone continues to specialise. “To be successful in your field, you have to work with blinkers on. But because of that, you miss the greater picture. And that greater picture is crucial if we want to solve complex global problems.” So, collaboration is also a necessity.

Lastly, both referred briefly to the rumours that went around at the time of the appointment of Habibović; two women on the board, would they begrudge each other the spotlight, who is the real boss? “I can assure you that Pamela and I are not thinking of that at all,” Letschert said with a broad smile. Habibović remarked that people who were hoping for a cat fight would be disappointed. “I wonder if there were the similair concerns for stag fights in the case of dominantly male boards.”

Author: Cleo Freriks

Photo's: Joey Roberts

Categories: News, news_top
Tags: diesnatalis2022,rector,letschert,Habibović,speech,president,board,change

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