‘In the end, rector is just Latin for organiser’
On the day of the Dies Natalis, Rector Magnificus Carel Stolker starts his second term of office. How does he look back on the first four years, and what are his plans? These are the questions asked of him by Mayor Lenferink, student of public administation Mikal Tseggai, Professor Eveline Crone and several other colleagues.
Mikal Tseggai, student of Public Administration and former chair of the Leiden University Student Platform:
What are you most proud of when you look back on your first four years?
‘There are a couple of things. The fact that we managed not to lose the KITLV (Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies) to Amsterdam. That would have been a disaster for Leiden given our valuable collections and expertise in the field of Asia. There are also other important institutes, such as the African Studies Centre and the NIMAR in Rabat, that are now part of the University. And, of course, there's enormous enthusiasm about our Campus The Hague. All our faculties are now represented there, something we could never have imagined in 2013. This week we will be opening a fantastic new building in The Hague, Wijnhaven. And in Leiden, some parts of our brand-new science campus are already in use. What's important is not the buildings, but the fact that you're providing your staff and students with the best possible facilities. All these examples are the result of teamwork, across the whole University as well as within the Executive Board.’
What could we do better?
‘Our teaching. We really do want to improve the external student ratings. At the moment, they're lower than we would expect. We have to do better, and that's something we're working on.’
What will the University look like in fifty years' time?
‘Clark Kerr, President of Berkeley, once remarked that of the more than 80 institutions that were in existence in the Western world in 1500 and that are still in existence today, 70 are universities. That's such an inspiring thought. The others include the Catholic church and the Dutch waterboards. So why are our universities so durable? According to Kerr, there are three reasons. They remain true to their task - teaching, research and “service to society”. They're also physically rooted: they are almost all still in the buildings where they originally started. Take Oxford, for example, or Heidelberg and Leiden, of course. As far as that's concerned, the University will most likely not have changed drastically when it's time to celebrate its 500th anniversary. Of course, digitisation, internationalisation and globalisation are racing ahead, but there will still be lectures, research and debates - and there will still be beer-drinking in Barrera.’
Mayor Henri Lenferink:
As Rector, you have a very visible role and you have invested enormously in forging a good relationship with the city. What has been your experience of this visibility?
‘Leiden is the city where I was born 62 years ago. I was registered in Leiden when I was born, and I'm still registered here today. Visibility is important for a Rector. And, even though it's important not to exaggerate the position - after all 'rector' is simply Latin for 'organiser' - I'm very aware that as Rector I represent the unity of the University, with all its different disciplines. That's why I like traditions and rituals; they help keep that unity in diversity at the forefront of our minds. The same goes for the city itself, with events like 3 October, and the role the Rector plays in the celebrations.’
Leiden and the University collaborate in many different domains. What do you see as the threats and opportunities in the coming years?
‘Right now, I can't imagine any better or more effective partnership: the city and the University need one another. In the coming months we will be discussing all the different opportunities again with the municipal council. The city as a 'living lab' is a concept that needs to be worked on further. One idea could be to do more research among and with the local people, because we want to give something back to the city. That's why I am so happy with our students from the Edisen Foundation. They give very accessible lectures to people in care homes; that's a very worthwhile initiative.’
‘It does happen - on rare occasions - that we clash with other perfectly understandable interests in the city and then our plans, such as our Humanities Campus, come under discussion. That campus really is crucial for us, and I'm talking about for centuries to come. We are poised to become one of the world's leading institutes in the Humanities, with all the benefits that will bring to the city and its many cultural institutions.’
Sasha Sabbah-Goldstein, PhD candidate in Religious Studies and member of the University Council:
How can we improve participation of non-Dutch speaking staff?
‘Internationalisation is advancing rapidly. English is already the working language in many of our institutes and departments, although not in our formal participation. The majority of our staff and students are Dutch after all, and our political environment, driven by The Hague, is also Dutch speaking. We have therefore agreed that University Council members have to at least have a passive understanding of Dutch in order to be able to read the documents, but it's fine if they speak in English. The University offers Dutch language courses for international staff and for students. What the situation will be in twenty years time, I can't say. It could be that the situation with English will progress faster than we think.’
Eveline Crone, Professor of Neurocognitive and Development Psychology and one of the founders of Athena’s Angels, a group that promotes the interests of women in science:
The University embraced the Room for Women project in the Senate Room, where for a month only portraits of women professors were displayed. How diverse will Leiden University be in the future and what will be needed to achieve that?
‘Well, Eveline, in any event the four Angels are now on display in our Board Room. Apart from one eighteenth-century theologist, the field has been cleared of men. Currently, almost 24 per cent of our professors are women, which puts Leiden in the lead among Dutch universities. It will take a bit more time to get more women in place; we can't just go sacking our male professors! But the faculties are working hard on the conditions needed to see that more women researchers get to the top of their field. They are monitoring the progress of diversity, they are scouting for female talent, they have a diversity expert in their appointment committees and they offer coaching to women scientists who want extra training.’
What else is being done to promote diversity?
‘Since the start of this year we have a Professor of Workplace Pride, Jojanneke van der Toorn. That was a great initiative of Simone Buitendijk. Jojanneke conducts research on how homosexual and bisexual employees and transgenders are treated at work and what we can do to improve their position. This knowledge will also be used to make the University a more pleasant environment for everyone. And then there's also cultural diversity, both among our staff and our students. This last group, our students, deserves more attention. Our Diversity Office organises and encourages all kinds of activities, from courses for lecturers to multicultural projects for students. All these activities are aimed at making sure everyone feels at home here and that we can all benefit from diversity.’
Hans van de Wetering, staff member of General Services in the Academy Building:
What has been your most cherished moment in the Academy Building and which would you most like to forget?
‘My own graduation in 1979, my PhD defence and my inaugural lecture in 1997 are, of course, very dear memories for me. These days, I often witness other people graduating, defending their dissertation or delivering their inaugural lecture, and every time I feel that same pride and relief all over again. But possibly my most cherished moment was with Willem van Beelen, our former beadle. Before a ceremony, he would always be waiting for me on the stairs, in his robe with his chain of office, the epitome of calm and friendliness. And he would say: 'Esteemed Rector', and I would say 'Esteemed beadle'. Then we would nod to one another and I would dash away to don my robe. He was a lovely man, and it is so sad that he passed away such a very short time after his retirement.’
‘What I'd like to forget is much more difficult because the Academy Building is a place for celebrating successes. If I have to choose something, it would be the point in 2006 when we heard that the wooden roof of the Academy Building was infested with the longhorn beetle, and that we wouldn't be able to use the building for three years. So, the best and the worst: Beadle and Beetle.’
Thomas Fossen, Assistant Professor of Political Philosophy, and active member of New Leiden University, a group advocating reform within the University:
At the opening of the previous academic year, British Professor Stefan Collini put forward the idea of the university as a largely self-governing community, aimed at the public good. Do you support that view of the university, and what is the most appropriate structure for such a university?
‘We invited Collini to talk on the topic of: Who does the university belong to? Myself, I think it belongs to no one. A much more useful question seems to be: Who is the university for? I do, in fact, believe strongly in a self-governing community, but not in line with the anarchic model of self-governance that's now one of the proposals at the UvA. You really do need capable university administrators with a vision, and you generally find them within the academic environment: scientific directors, heads of departments, deans and vice-deans and experts on finance, real estate, ICT, HRM, communications, and legal affairs. Together they make sure that the complex vessel that is the university stays on course.’
‘And what that course should be is something you take from the community of students, scientists and staff. For everyday activities we also have employee and student participation at all levels: in faculty boards, faculty councils, university council, committees, and of course the discussions with the unions. You could liken it to a finely meshed eco-system.’
Nadeshda Jayakody, alumna from Australia, who graduated in 2016 in European and International Human Rights Law:
What are you doing to foster the relatrions with alumni?
‘We have the wonderful tradition of the Cleveringa lectures that are organised throughout the world. We now invite our international graduates to these meetings, which is proving very successful. It's giving rise to many new communities of alumni, in New York, Vancouver and Taipee, for example. Our alumni are literally in all corners of the world, and I always look them up during my international visits, as I did recently when I was in Brazil. The LUF and the Alumni Office are now located together in the Alumni House next to the central University building. That gives us the chance to work together even better to maintain close relations with our alumni.’
‘It's also good to see that so many alumni are willing to help students and new graduates. More than a thousand alumni have alrady signed up as mentors in our new online mentor network. And the connections with our alumni are being fostered from the bottom up, not from the top down, by the very people that make up our University, our community. ’