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2020: A Year of Connection

Monday 2 March: the first COVID-19 crisis meeting

And then, suddenly, the crisis hit the Radboud University campus as well. On Monday 2 March, the seven members of the Crisis Management Team (CMT) rushed to a meeting room in the Berchmanianum administration building. Unlike at ‘normal’ crisis meetings, the head of the International Office was also present because the virus simply does not respect borders.

Daniël Wigboldus will not soon forget that first meeting. “It was extremely urgent. At the end of that week, 1,100 secondary school students were expected to come to campus to take the admission test for the decentralised selection for the Medicine programme; many of them were coming from Brabant, a hot spot at the time.” Wigboldus remembers that events were snowballing in that first month, during which the CMT met no less than 17 times. Their last meeting was held on 2 April, not because COVID-19 had disappeared, but because “you just can’t operate in crisis mode all the time”. From April onwards, deliberations were held ‘in the line’, read: in existing consultations in existing bodies, with the university’s administration monitoring the situation in weekly briefings.

‘In 2020, the whole was much more than the sum of its parts’

Still, according to Wigboldus, 2020 also revealed something beautiful: universities stood side by side without any rivalry, and the Ministry was quick to act, going beyond the normal procedures and haggling over money. “I’m proud of the resilience shown, for example, by employees who had to continue working at home with young children. I had it relatively easy, although the walls were coming down on me too, and I would love to see everyone again. But some colleagues and students had to – and did – dig deep. Hats off, also for helping each other whenever possible. It was a year in which the whole was much more than the sum of its parts.”

Daniël Wigboldus (1969) has been president of the Radboud University Executive Board since 2017. In 2020, his term of office was extended to 1 May 2025.

Monday 9 March: the off-campus university

Bewildering. That was Han van Krieken’s response to an email from the building administrators about lecture hall capacity during the pandemic. He had hoped that the impact of COVID-19 would be somewhat limited in terms of in-person education. After all, that is a top priority at Radboud University. What did the email reveal? Grotius – at 482 seats, the largest lecture hall on campus – could welcome exactly 48 students. 48! It was a rude awakening from the dream of in-person education for large groups, something so important for first-year students in, say, law or psychology, with enrolment figures well over 500. “I couldn’t believe those numbers, and I immediately phoned to verify that they were correct. Unfortunately, they were. That same evening, the thought occurred to me to call Eva Middelhoff.”

She is director of the Nijmegen theatre venues and a familiar face to Van Krieken in the municipal network. Two weeks later, it was settled: De Vereeniging and De Stadsschouwburg concert halls made their debut as lecture halls. The entire country was able to watch, after Nieuwsuur invited Van Krieken to share good examples of in-person education. “The student unions had called for more in-person lectures, and I was asked to highlight our efforts. Yet, our initiative was not followed by many others.” The reason may have been the costs: the university had to dip into its reserves for half a million euros. And the meter is still running because the concert halls have been rented out for the entire academic year. But it’s well worth the cost, according to the rector. “We were able to demonstrate our commitment and emphasise the importance of meeting and connecting.”

‘With the development of hybrid education,
we have made a lasting impact this year’

Van Krieken sees two bright spots in these difficult times: first, everyone has experienced the importance of fundamental research. “It’s not like COVID-19 broke out and we suddenly started working. The success of the vaccines and medication is based on years of fundamental research.” The second bright spot: “With the development of hybrid education, we have made a lasting impact this year.” With an emphasis on hybrid: a combination of online and in-person interaction. “Many people thought that fully online education would be our future. Fortunately, I no longer hear that anywhere.”

Han van Krieken (1956) has been Rector Magnificus of Radboud University since 2016. In 2019, his term on the board was extended by four years.

Thursday 18 June: a phone call about social insecurity

Wilma de Koning was Zoom-ing at home when a phone call startled her: there had been reports of intimidating behaviour at one of the faculties. She was shaken. “That’s the last thing you want to happen. It’s terrible when someone doesn’t experience the campus as a safe environment.”

To underscore the importance of social safety across the university, the university’s administration already had developed measures in 2020. The team of confidential advisors were put in a stronger position and the undesirable behaviour regulation was modified. After an external investigation into the reports, a process of cultural change was begun. That process will result in a new code of conduct for the entire university. “Then, hopefully, something good can still come out of this situation.”

‘Hopefully, something good can still come out of this situation’

Wilma de Koning (1962) has been Vice President of the Radboud University Executive Board since 2013. On 1 July 2021, she will take up a new position as general director of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW).