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Transitioning Leadership: An interview with Prof. Hanny Elzinga and Prof. Joke Fleer

09 April 2024
Prof. Joke Fleer and Prof. Hanny Elzinga

In this interview, we bring together Prof. Hanny Elzinga, the former dean of UCG, and Prof. Joke Fleer, our newly appointed dean, to discuss the transition of leadership within the faculty. From delving into their experiences, challenges, and visions for the faculty, to reflecting on past achievements and outlining future goals for Liberal Arts and Sciences, Prof. Hanny Elzinga and Prof. Joke Fleer offer insights into continuity and growth of UCG under new leadership.

Prof Hanny Elzinga, can you share a particularly memorable moment or experience from your time as dean that has had a lasting impact on you?

That was the big barbecue at the end of the academic year 2023. It took place in the summer, outdoors in the garden of UCG, and was so large that we even needed the basketball court. The weather was beautiful, and after two Corona years, it was a welcome change. Both students and staff were present, some even brought their children. It was a moment where our community truly flourished. We had fun, enjoyed each other's company, and there were wonderful conversations between students and staff. All of this showed me what UCG really means, especially after a difficult period of distance due to Corona.

Prof. Hanny Elzinga, what do you hope will be your legacy as dean?

An important task for myself as dean has always been to maintain and promote collaboration between students and staff. After all, the Liberal Arts and Sciences concept of our UCG emphasises freedom and personal development. Finding your own path is challenging, which is why we aim to create an environment in which both students and staff have the freedom to explore what matters to them, both within and outside the academic world. I genuinely believe that this is incredibly valuable for their future careers and personal growth. For the academic staff, I hope that facilitating research time will continue to yield many beautiful results in the future, from which students will also benefit. 

Can you provide an example of such a co-creation between students and staff? 

Elzinga: A fitting example of this, addressing both the interdisciplinary and international aspects, is the approach to colonialism in our curriculum. Within our project-based learning, students have explored how the curriculum in this area can be enhanced and engaged in discussions with teachers and faculty members. The result includes a new course, Postcolonial Theory, developed collaboratively by students and staff.

Prof. Joke Fleer, how do you envision building upon the foundation laid by Prof. Hanny Elzinga to further enhance the academic excellence and student experience within UCG?

In the field of interdisciplinary learning, Hanny has done fundamental work, and I want to build on that. Additionally, I want to ensure that we become even more visible, both within the university and to external partners, including research institutions, government organisations, and businesses in the region. While we already have partnerships in place, my goal is to deepen and broaden these collaborations wherever possible. I take pride in UCG's accomplishments thus far and would like to promote this further. 

This is a question for you both: How do you envision the future direction of the faculty, and what opportunities and challenges do you foresee?

Prof. Hanny Elzinga: We live in tense times, where issues such as internationalisation, diversity, and inclusion play a prominent role. Despite these challenges, I have confidence in the future. In a world that is becoming increasingly complex, diverse perspectives are essential to finding solutions, and I believe that UCG, with its focus on interdisciplinarity, can be a role model in this regard. Also in the area of diversity and inclusion, UCG has much to offer. I think here of our experience with intercultural collaborations.  

Prof. Joke Fleer: I completely agree with that. Another challenge concerns the well-being of students. There are quite a few students who feel lonely or unhappy, or struggle with stress. As dean, I strive for a culture where mental health can be openly discussed without taboos. Fortunately, there is already a lot of attention to student well-being within UCG, and I want to continue supporting initiatives in this area wherever possible. What I also consider important in this context is the sense of community as a counterbalance to an increasingly polarised society. To ensure that people feel heard and not excluded, it is essential to give each other space to speak out, show empathy, and empathise with other perspectives. These values are what I want to emphasise in my role as dean.

Prof. Joke Fleer, what do you see as the future direction of Liberal Arts and Sciences education, and how do you plan to adapt to the changing landscape of higher education?

As a university, we have long been strongly focused on increasing subject-specific knowledge and skills, but I believe that it is precisely the more generic skills and competencies that are so crucial in a complex time like this. Liberal Arts and Sciences education has always been about more than just acquiring knowledge in specific subjects; it's about developing versatile and self-reflective thinkers who can navigate complex issues with creativity and from multiple angles. Furthermore, our educational approach recognises the importance of global perspectives and cultural competencies in our global world. I believe that we prepare students not just for their first job, but for a lifetime of learning and adapting in a dynamic and uncertain future.

Prof. Hanny Elzinga, what advice would you give to Prof. Joke Fleer as she transitions into the role of dean?

Joke, you're joining a wonderful, diverse faculty, with incredibly engaged colleagues and students. And my first advice is: enjoy it. And my second: Add your own touch. Do it your way.

Prof. Hanny Elzinga, what message would you like to convey to the faculty, staff, students, and alumni of UCG as you transition to a new phase in your career?

My message is short and also the title of my inaugural lecture: ‘A broad view expands the mind’. 

Prof Joke Fleer, what message would you like to share with the faculty, staff and students of the University College Groningen as you begin your tenure as dean?

I mainly think: Know where to find me. My door is open, and I highly appreciate it when staff and students feel free to contact me to discuss their ideas, concerns, or wishes. I am here for the faculty, so let’s together explore where we can go and how we can continue to build something beautiful.

Last modified:10 April 2024 10.24 a.m.

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