Speech at Young Academy Leiden inauguration

Abstract

As the chair of Young Academy Leiden, I addressed the public at our inauguration. The text of my speech is included below. The video introducing the Young Academy Leiden members is linked.

Date
Mar 20, 2019 4:00 PM
Location
Leiden, the Netherlands

Mijnheer de rector magnificus, mevrouw de vice-rector magnificus, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to speak to you today on behalf of the first group of members of the Young Academy Leiden in my role as chair. Over the past couple of months, we got the chance to get to know each other: a diverse group of scholars from all of our faculties, with very diverse academic backgrounds, nationally and internationally. Together, we get the unique chance to discover our disciplinary differences and commonalities, and to shape what the Young Academy Leiden is all about.

Today we will present ourselves, our research and ambitions for the Young Academy Leiden and will also uncover our first major activity a little later in the programme. But first let me reflect on something that has been a key term in university policy and the conception of a Young Academy in Leiden: academic excellence.

The term academic excellence has become a buzzword in the academic world. But what does it mean? Sometimes the term excellence is used in an attempt to focus attention and resources on those researchers with unusually good qualities. This ‘super star model’ of science has recently met with criticism, however, from De Jonge Akademie, our big sister organisation at the national level. They argue that the widening gap between the haves and have-nots is not beneficial to a good academic climate. Funding opportunities are, after all, very much limited and many great young scholars with strong proposals cannot be funded. And this in turn leads to unequal chances for further funding and promotion.

We too have been selected as members of the Young Academy Leiden in part because of our academic record. But we don’t consider ourselves super stars. We view true academic excellence in different terms.

First, an excellent university recognises that science is done together. We work together, we build on each other’s arguments. We stand on the shoulders of giants, but also on many normal shoulders of people who have contributed to development in their respective fields.

Second, an excellent university connects education and research and this requires research active staff across the board. An excellent university allows its students to excel.

And thirdly, academic excellence asks us to look beyond our disciplines and to society. Our bastion of liberty should not be an ivory tower, but a sanctuary open to all and connected to the cities of Leiden and The Hague and the world.

We are humbled to get the chance to work on these objectives. To strengthen interdisciplinary exchange, to reach out to society and to reflect on university policy from the perspective of young researchers.

We recognize the help over the years of mentors, friends and colleagues. Speaking from my own perspective: sometimes the job of an academic can be very individual, working on your own projects and teaching your own courses. But far more often I receive support from colleagues in many different shapes. From supervisors and mentors, from people critically reflecting upon my work, from discussions at the lunch table about politics and the university. I am sure this is true for all members of the Young Academy Leiden. We are enormously thankful for the help and support given to us and the opportunity provided to be a part of the Young Academy Leiden. Therefore, we very much look forward to working in service of and together with everyone at our university and beyond.

It is now my great pleasure to present to you the first members of the Young Academy Leiden.

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Tom Louwerse
Associate Professor

Associate Professor in Political Science at Leiden University