“Be who you are”

Written by  Annelotte Huiskes Thursday, 05 January 2012 14:49

“We shouldn’t aim to be a Harvard on the Meuse”

It all started with a call from Jo Ritzen in 2008. Would he like to be dean of the Maastricht Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences (FHML)? Three years later, Martin Paul, MD, professor of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, is set to succeed Ritzen as president of the university’s Executive Board.

“When Jo called me I was 50 and had been dean of the Charité university medical centre in Berlin for eight years. I was ready for a new challenge and Maastricht University (UM) has a great reputation in Germany – in fact, much better than that in its own country. Sometimes I get the impression that not everyone in the Netherlands understands what we do here. The fact that UM is now the first Dutch university to choose an international president is something I see as quite logical. After all, we are the most international university in the Netherlands.”


As dean of the FHML and vice president of the Maastricht University Medical Centre (Maastricht UMC+), Paul has been collaborating in the university’s strategic programme from day one in Maastricht. The management team that he now chairs as president of the Executive Board is the same team that he also served in as dean – so not much is changing, in his view. His main aim is to continue the policy that has been pursued in recent years.

“I see Jo Ritzen as a symbol of the major growth phase of the university. Now we’re entering a phase where we need to draw links between all our different parts; we have to work together to strengthen what we’ve achieved. This calls for integrated leadership. The Maastricht UMC+ and FHML can’t do without each other, but nor can the Life Sciences cluster in Randwyck do without the inner city humanities and social sciences faculties, and vice versa. When I came to Maastricht, my first diagnosis was that we’re facing a case of ‘Balkanisation’. When the university and the new Maastricht UMC+ were being established, naturally everyone focused on building up and defending their own domains. But now that, as a 35-year-old university, we’ve reached middle age, it’s time to look more at the links between the different elements. That’s what I see as my task.”


“Maastricht is a unique university that has no need to imitate a typical Randstad university. It’s a mistake to try to create a Leiden on the Meuse or even a Harvard on the Meuse within 10 years here. You have to be identifiable as ‘Maastricht on the Meuse’, both nationally and internationally. My motto is ‘be who you are’. This university is characterised by Problem-Based Learning; this means we have to ensure that we offer outstanding education across the board and focus on research themes in which we want to distinguish ourselves. Two examples: the CAPHRI research institute is leading the way in integrated research in public health and primary care across Europe, and METEOR, the Maastricht Research School of Economics of Technology and Organisations, is a unique research structure within the School of Business and Economics.”


Euregion without borders

“In the future, I’d like to see the borders in the Euregion effectively disappear. If we can form a true network with Aachen, Liége, Leuven and Hasselt, both economically and socially, then we’ll be a vital region comparable to the Randstad. UM stands at the heart of the Euregion, and has to play a pioneering role in this process. In Limburg there’s talk of shrinkage and poor employment prospects, certainly from the perspective of the rest of the Netherlands. This gives the university the opportunity to play a positive role. It’s not only about education and research, but also about employment opportunities. What happens to our students?

“This means working on agreements with Wallonia, Flanders and North Rhine-Westphalia. Often we’re faced with pragmatic problems unrelated to the academic context. For instance, the Maastricht UMC+ has been working for years to set up a European hospital together with Aachen. But this also means sitting around the table with health insurers to figure out how Dutch and German patients can be reimbursed for their treatment in that kind of European centre. You have to solve questions like these as a lobbyist, together with politicians. To that end I have good contacts in Germany – I know not only the university context there but also the political circuits.”

Academic or manager?

“I’ve been working in tough management positions since 1997 and I’ve always managed to stay active as an academic as well. I’m what you might call an ‘academic manager’. I think that academic institutions need to have academics as managers. My specialisation is clinical pharmacology in the field of cardiovascular diseases. As president of the Executive Board, I’ll still remain a professor in my field. I’ll keep on teaching and doing research, be it to a much lesser degree. That will help me stay in touch with my academic foundations, which is very important for my managerial health. Broadly speaking, I think that in principle we simply have to continue on with what we’ve started. If in eight years’ time Maastricht is recognised nationally and internationally in the same exceptional and positive light that it already is in Germany, then I’ll have achieved something.”

Martin Paul studied medicine at Heidelberg University in Germany and completed his thesis in pharmacology at the University of California, San Diego. In 1995 he became full professor of Clinical Pharmacology at the Benjamin Franklin Medical Center and in 1997 chair of the Institute of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, both at the Freie Universität (FU) Berlin. From 1997 to 2003 he served as dean of the FU’s Medical Faculty, and from 2004 to 2008 as dean and vice president of the Executive Board of the Charité Medical Faculty in Berlin. He has been active in several professional organisations, including as chair of DEAN, the European network of deans and academic managers from all disciplines. He also served on the board of the European Centre for Strategic Management of Universities (ESMU).

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