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“I’m a better administrator than academic”

Written by  Annelotte Huiskes Tuesday, 07 June 2016 14:23

Vic Bonke was succeeded in 1991 by Job Cohen. Cohen served two terms as rector until 1998, interrupted by his appointment as state secretary for Education and Science between 1993 and 1995. It was Maastricht University’s first rector, the educationalist Wynand Wijnen, who brought Cohen into contact with UM. At the time Cohen was working at Leiden’s educational research centre and found his interest piqued by Problem-Based Learning (PBL). One thing led to another and, in 1981, Cohen moved to Maastricht to establish the law faculty.

 

“I heard about the official opening in 1976 from my father. He was the rector of Leiden University and chair of the national committee of rectors. As such, he was invited to give a speech at the ceremony in the Sint Servaaskerk. He had trouble, as rector of the oldest university not only in the Netherlands but almost in the world, taking the Limburg initiative seriously. This is the first time I’ve seen the images of the opening ceremony; it’s great to be able to see and hear my father.

“I was 32 when I was asked to set up the new law faculty in Maastricht in 1981. It’s amazing, being given an opportunity like that at such a young age. Our first 100 students arrived the next year. It was a fantastic time. We had ten staff members, including Karl Dittrich, Cees Flinterman, René de Groot and Gerard Mols – he was part of the younger generation at the time. Everything was new; ours was the first law programme to work with PBL.

“I moved my family from Leiden to Maastricht in 1981. In the beginning I barely dared to say a word on the street, because everyone made very clear: you’re not from around here, you’re from Holland. But over the 20 years I lived in Maastricht, I saw it change from a small city where a lot of French was spoken, and of course the Maastricht dialect, into a city where you can easily speak Dutch and English.

“In 1991, after a decade as dean of the law faculty, I became the first rector who wasn’t from the medical faculty. One of my motivations was that I felt I was a better administrator than an academic. Our main goal was to help the university grow. The psychology faculty was established during my time in Maastricht, and the European Studies programme. Internationalisation was a big issue. The economics faculty was already recruiting foreign students, which was quite novel at the time.

“When I became mayor of Amsterdam, it was a great help that I already had experience dealing with all those professors. People in Amsterdam know and say what they want. The same can be said for professors and politicians. Working with an Executive Board in the public sector – that’s where I’m at my best.”

Job Cohen (1947) studied law in Groningen and obtained his PhD at Leiden University, where he started his career as an academic. In Maastricht, he was appointed professor of Methods and Techniques in 1983, and was dean of the law faculty from 1981 to 1991 and rector magnificus from 1991 to 1993/1995 to 1998. He served briefly as state secretary in 1993 and in 1998 at the Ministry of Justice. He was mayor of Amsterdam from 2001 to 2010 and leader of the Dutch Labour Party as well as parliamentary group leader in the House of Representatives from 2010 to 2012. Today Cohen is, among other things, chair of the Supervisory Board of Wageningen University.

In celebration of Maastricht University’s 40th anniversary this year, video portraits have been made of the six surviving former rectors of the university. This is an abridged version of one of these interviews. For the full interviews please visit the special anniversary website at www.maastrichtuniversity.nl/jubileum. These video portraits make use of unique fragments from the signing of the university’s founding charter by Queen Juliana and Sjeng Tans in the Sint Servaaskerk in 1976.

 

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