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Judi Mesman on leaving LUC: ‘It’s been a wild ride’

A moment of reminiscence and to see what lies ahead. After having been Dean of Leiden University College The Hague (LUC) for six years, Judi Mesman takes the time to reflect. ‘LUC is a wonderful, lively, complex, and diverse place where I’ve experienced and learned so much these past six years.’

Judi Mesman

Within the University, Leiden University College is a unique place because it brings together so many disciplines and nationalities. ‘I’ve actually felt like a student myself for six years. I was given the opportunity to work with people who know and are able to do so many things and who are knowledgeable about topics I know absolutely nothing about. It really is a luxury position to be in, being exposed to so much knowledge and expertise from so many disciplines in your daily work.’ Mesman praises the passion for education and the creativity of both staff and students. ‘I thought I was a rather good teacher, but also in that area I’ve learned so many things and have often thought: ‘How on earth did you come up with that!’

‘It really is a luxury position to be in, being exposed to so much knowledge and expertise from so many disciplines in your daily work.’

Dealing with corona

The institute LUC is solid as a rock, according to Mesman. As it was when she started as Dean six years ago. ‘They had just completed the start-up phase’, she reminisces. ‘The programme was sound, but everybody was also absolutely exhausted because they’d worked so incredibly hard on that programme. We really made an effort to create more calm and make sure that we were able to really enjoy doing the things we were doing at LUC. But then the pandemic happened and everything got turned upside down. A very stressful period, especially for us as a programme that’s all about face-to-face interaction and small scale education. That doesn’t translate well online. We’ve managed to pull it off eventually, but it hasn’t been easy.’

Continue to innovate

The departing dean says she is leaving LUC as a rock solid programme ‘with a rock solid team’. ‘As a result of the pandemic, some issues have been shelved because we were too busy trying to get through this difficult Covid period.’ Her successor Giles Scott-Smith can get cracking on those. ‘One should continue to innovate. You can’t say: we’ve got a good thing going, we don’t need to do anything more. That isn’t in our staff’s nature either. Especially not in a programme revolving around Global Challenges. But I also want to tell Giles to enjoy all the wonderful things LUC has to offer. It’s an art to find the perfect balance between remaining true to yourself, holding on to LUC’s identity, and continuing to reflect on the Liberal Arts and developing the programme. But the future of LUC is looking bright, of that I’m certain.’

Mesman is proud of the headway and investments she has made in dealing with diversity issues. ‘We’ve hired a lot of people with an underrepresented academic or personal profile which really has expanded the scope of our thinking. That heterogeneous group is an incredible development enabling people to have new conversations with each other and come up with innovative ideas. My own research programme will never be the same thanks to my experiences at LUC.’

The book ‘The Art of Engaging Teaching’

Rave in the middle of the afternoon

Part of reminiscing is taking a look at the highs and lows. What Mesman enjoyed most were those moments the creativity and energy of the LUC community were really let loose. ‘I’m thinking of events such as our Pantomimes and the Dies Fatalis, in which students and staff performed sketches and songs on stage. Those were always the highlights for me. But another highlicht for me was what students organised for the departure of Jeffrey, our receptionist, who was much loved among our students. Jeffrey really loved going to raves and so, on that day, our students organised a rave for him in front of the reception desk in the middle of the afternoon. Amazing!’

The creation of the book ‘The Art of Engaging Teaching’ is another highlight mentioned by the dean. Teachers shared their educational vision with students who interviewed them and who handled the design of the book. ‘A good example of the passion, creativity, and collaboration at LUC.’ The collaboration within the College Board has also been inspiring. ‘I was very lucky to be able to join forces with incredible people, supported by a fantastic support team.’

There is also a downside to all that passion and energy, according to Mesman. ‘It makes everything fun, but sometimes also difficult. When there are tough decisions to be made, everybody has their own opinion on the matter. You have to be able to work things out with your academic staff of forty people, made up of twenty disciplines and twenty nationalities. You might agree on what LUC should be, but to be able to come to an agreement on how to get there? I’ve experienced a few difficult moments along the way.’

More time

After the Graduation Ceremony of the Class of 2022, it will be time for Mesman to really scale down. ‘I’m looking forward to having more time. For all those things I’ve been doing on the side all this time, but now will be able to do during daylight. I’ve always continued to do research and now I can make that my main focus again. I’ll continue working on the subject of ‘Children of the City’ and plan to sit down with my research team after the summer to come up with a long-term plan. What that will look like? I’ll actually have the time to sit back and think about it. Now there’s something to look forward to!’

Text: Margriet van der Zee

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