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‘I hope that I’ve managed to contribute in some way’

Rector Magnificus Cisca Wijmenga bids farewell
28 August 2023
picture Cisca Wijmenga
Cisca Wijmenga

On Friday 1 September, Cisca Wijmenga will hand over her chain of office to the new Rector Jacquelien Scherpen. Looking back on four years on the ‘roller coaster’ that characterizes ‘the best job in the world’, Wijmenga smiles with satisfaction. She’s now ready for peace of mind, taking time for herself, and walking the Pieterpad.

Text: Riepko Buikema, Communication Office; photos: Nienke Maat

Four years ago, shortly after she was installed, the brand-new administrator Wijmenga compared her University with an oil tanker. Now, in the run-up to her farewell, she is happy to conclude that its course has definitely changed. ‘The UG is at the heart of society. We must be the solution to big issues, not just a participant. No, the University is at the helm and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are its driving force. This has always been my motivation. It has been a privilege to realize just how much you can achieve.’

Attention for education

When asked what Wijmenga is most pleased with looking back, she presents a carefully prepared list of more than twenty initiatives, noting that not every attempt to improve or innovate was a success. ‘I have tried to pay education the attention it deserves. I’m proud of the UG Support Plan, the new teaching career paths within Recognition and Rewards, the ongoing community formation within the Teaching Academy Groningen, and the promotion of lecturer professionalization and teaching innovation.’

Resilience

The common denominator in Wijmenga’s reflections: her inspiring, moving, and confrontational encounters with students, lecturers, researchers, and colleagues. ‘ I have immensely enjoyed meeting so many enthusiastic researchers, and my weekly lunches with students. I remember a student once telling me: ‘My parents wrap me in cotton wool.’ It said a lot. Students must learn by trial and error. The idea that being a student should be the best time of your life is a myth. Set-backs are par for the course, but you must be able to cope mentally. I’d like students to have built up some resilience by the time they graduate.’

picture Cisca WIjmenga
‘I really pushed for our interdisciplinary research. . . . The Schools bring people from different faculties together.’

Time to stop and think

Wijmenga noticed on several occasions that students were slightly in awe of her position. She always grasped these moments to explain that life isn’t necessarily a simple uphill slope. ‘I tell them that I started out in junior general secondary education, that no-one in my family had ever been to university, and that it had never crossed my mind that I might eventually do the job I’m doing now. These chats help to them to get things into perspective. I hope that I’ve managed to contribute in some way’

Wijmenga adds that she hopes to see the benefits of the pilot for a Smarter Academic Year and the next phase of the ENLIGHT European University Alliance project over the next few years. She also hopes that in future, students and lecturers won’t feel ‘constantly rushed off their feet’, and that it will be easier for students from within Europe to find their way to partner universities that enable them to deepen or broaden their focus.

Making Connections

Wijmenga looks back on the launch of the four Schools for Science & Society with great satisfaction. ‘I really pushed for our interdisciplinary research. Disciplines can become deeply entrenched in a university, particularly an old one like Groningen. Although they are obviously very important, it does make it more difficult for people to connect. The Schools bring people from different faculties together.’

This increased focus on team performance and cooperation also gels well with the system of Recognition and Rewards, the initiative designed to broaden the criteria for assessing academic careers. ‘What is your impact on your institute, your faculty, or the university as a whole? How will your research prompt changes within society? What is your contribution to our strategy? I consider this new perspective to be very important.

Admiration

The departing Rector Magnificus is keen to stress her admiration for the student assessors, the enthusiastic members of the University Council, and the members of committees of all the study and student associations. ‘It’s amazing to see how they cope with the responsibility of these tasks, how much it teaches them. I saw them grow in stature. You don’t learn to manage or exert influence in the lecture hall. I wish every student could have this experience.’

picture Cisca Wijmenga
‘It’s amazing to see how students cope with the responsibility of these tasks, how much it teaches them. I saw them grow in stature. You don’t learn to manage or exert influence in the lecture hall. I wish every student could have this experience.’

Under fire

Wijmenga saw at first hand just much criticism the committee members of the larger student associations were often subjected to. As were she and her colleagues Jouke de Vries and Hans Biemans, when they spent long periods under fire - up to and including calls for their resignation. ‘That was intense. It really hurt - as if people were almost assuming that the Board of the University doesn’t want the best for the university. As if our prime objective is to annoy people. Nobody is perfect, unpleasant things happen, but does this really warrant an online petition..? People in my former research group were aghast. It caused a really strange dynamic. The PhD students, who knew nothing about what was going on, were suddenly being asked to sign this petition.’

The path to Maastricht

Wijmenga had already announced her intention to hand over the position of Rector Magnificus on 1 September several months earlier. ‘I’m passing the baton to a very capable successor and looking forward to having more time to myself. I have been appointed to the Supervisory Board of Hanze University of Applied Sciences Groningen, I’m taking a Comenius course, and I’ve started walking the Pieterpad. I want to walk the whole route on my own, preferably by the end of the year. I hope that it will have a meditative effect, that I’ll find peace of mind. My aim is to reach Maastricht, where my late partner once lived. If all goes well, I’d like to spend a few days there.’

Last modified:28 August 2023 2.45 p.m.
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