UCU Lustrum: The Fifteen Years’ Experience

By Marlijn ter Bekke & Vera van Rossum

On September 6, UCU celebrated its fifteen year lustrum with students, staff and alumni. A good reason to delve into our history, and who better to ask than two professors who were there from the start? Professors Jos van der Linden (History) and Hans van Himbergen (Physics) shared their experience.

In 1996, a group of true educational pioneers set out to design and develop the first Liberal Arts and Sciences College in the Netherlands. One of them was Hans van Himbergen, who became the first Head of the Science Department and later UCU’s dean. During his years as a professor in the USA he had become familiar with the concept of Liberal Arts and Sciences education. This was the cure, he felt, for what he perceived as the ill-functioning higher education system in the Netherlands. “What I saw around me were students longing for a broader education than the one they were getting at the regular universities. UC provided just that,” says Van Himbergen.

Jos van der Linden joined the staff of UCU just before the very first semester in the Fall of 1998. Unlike Van Himbergen, he was not familiar with the Liberal Arts and Sciences concept, but soon discovered its many advantages. “I noticed that the students were experimenting with the concept in ways that I had not thought of, for example combining two different fields of study in an essay they had to write for Modern History. This opened my eyes to the possibilities of a broad education, and I decided to make it an explicit part of the history program.”

The initial absence of organization provided teachers with the opportunity to shape their own courses. “In the beginning there were only 100 level courses, which gave us the opportunity to devise a completely new curriculum. A wonderful sense of freedom.” Of course, there was also a down side to this freedom. Students and teachers alike were often groping in the dark about the direction their education was to take.

Over the years, much has changed. The concept Liberal Arts and Sciences is now far better understood and applied, both at the college and elsewhere in the Netherlands. Because of the accomplishments of its alumni and its excellent accreditation, UCU’s international reputations has grown. This, in combination with more intensive student recruitment internationally, has resulted in a more diverse campus population than before.

Both professors stress that, despite the changes, they still feel the very same enthusiasm as they did in their very first weeks. It is exactly this feeling that might just keep them around for another fifteen years. Who knows, we might be interviewing them again for the next lustrum.

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