UG says goodbye to rector Wijmenga

Four years ago, Cisca Wijmenga became the first woman at the UG to receive the rector’s chain. On Friday, during the opening of the academic year, she handed it to her successor, Jacquelien Scherpen.

When Wijmenga started as rector in 2019, 229 male rectors had gone before her in 405-year history of the university.

During her ‘reign’, the academic community was severely tested, she said to a large audience in the Martini church: there was the Covid pandemic, the unrest and protests about social safety that led to the Academy building being occupied twice.

But, she said, there were also things to be hopeful about. ‘Students and staff being involved with internal democracy, with academic and personal safety. A university cannot exist without people constantly innovating the way we do things and looking for new avenues.’

Protest against the toga

The procession, considerably longer than in previous years, walking from the Broerplein to the Martini church. Photo by Reyer Boxem

Normally, the opening of the academic year takes place on the first Monday of September, just like at all other Dutch universities. This year, the UG moved it to Friday, since the introduction of the new rector would be attended by fellow rectors from all over the country.

The ceremony at the Martini church was preceded by the traditional procession of toga-clad professors walking from the Academy building to the church, passing through the Grote Markt.

Interestingly enough, the procession was considerably longer than in previous years. Two students with student party SOG also joined the procession, wearing not togas, but tomas: the ‘tunic for overlooked mid-level academics’.

The toma: the ‘tunic for overlooked mid-level academics’. Photo by Reyer Boxem

This was a campaign by the UG’s university council parties. Using the motto ‘Everyone is a professor’, they protested ‘the hierarchy inherent to the exclusive toga’. According to them, this is at odds with the UG’s goal to acknowledge and appreciate all its employees.

English versus Dutch

Jouke de Vries opted to express criticism towards education minister Robbert Dijkgraaf. The D66 minister wants no more than a third of bachelor programmes to be in English from now on, but the academic community disagrees with him.

Zimbabwean environmental lawyer Taku Mutezo, Alumnus of the Year 2023, giving a speech at the Martini church. Photo by Reyer Boxem

As a symbolic protest, De Vries gave a third of his farewell speech to Wijmenga in English before switching to Dutch. ‘The education minister says we have to.’

According to De Vries, less English isn’t a solution to the problems currently facing universities. What is the solution? ‘An internationally oriented university that’s strongly anchored in the region: the University of the North.’

His last words to outgoing rector Wijmenga were spoken in Frisian, Gronings, and Drents: ‘Grutsk op dy, Cisca is goud, ‘t kun minder.’ (Proud of you, Cisca is gold, not bad at all)

Research

Dutch Research Council president Marcel Levi argued for ‘a change in how we think about research in the Netherlands’. During his speech, he said that research shouldn’t be considered an expense, but rather something that makes money.

Dutch academics are great at research, belonging to the top academics in the world, said Levi. ‘But we need more research investments: we’re one of the few European countries that’s spending less than the promised 3 percent of our gross domestic product on research, even though the EU agreed on that.’

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