‘Sweep away the thresholds’

Candidates Karin Raeymaeckers and Patrick De Baets are new to the rector / vice-rector electoral race. How do they see the future for Ghent University and how they see each other? We asked them.

So, what’s at the heart of your programme?

Karin Raeymaeckers: ‘What we really want is for everyone, be they students or staff members at any level, to feel completely at home in this institution, and we want to sweep away the thresholds that prevent them from coming into contact with one another. We want less in the way of top-down communication and we believe that will allow us to tap into the broader range of university-wide ideas. Ghent University is teeming with experts at the very top of their fields, who are brimming with pride and enthusiasm for the institution. Of course, you’ve got all the usual suspects in the official bodies of consultation, but there are so many more.’

‘People are far more successful and far more enthusiastic about working together when they’re given a certain measure of independence and when they sense that their contribution to the organisation is appreciated. The communication channels are so ingrained and these days. The trouble with top-down communication is that it makes you think that you’ve shot swiftly past start; however, by the second bend you’ve landed face first in the gutter, with all your baggage strewn around you, and there’s hardly anyone willing to to pull you out.’
Sounds good. But how will you make it work in practice?

Karin Raeymaeckers: ‘If Mark Zuckerberg found the time to talk to his people, to let them know his door was always open, then so can we. The whole place could do with a shakeup, to clear the dust from the system.’

Kandidaten verkiezingen rector en vicerector: Karin Raeymaeckers en Patrick De BaetsPatrick De Baets: ‘If you take a look today at exactly what kind of committees you’ll find at the university, then you’ll see that it’s precisely what it was five, ten or even twenty years ago, the only difference being that there are more of them, and more often than not comprised of the same exact people. There are a lot of new challenges ahead and it’s great that experts and people in the know can get around the table to talk about them. But why don’t we set up ad hoc committees for that? They can be dissolved once the ideas have been generated. It would help us avoid a lot of this tunnel vision. Take the Educational Council, for example. You know, it’s not the Council that comes up with the creative ideas. No, instead it’s the assistants, and sometimes the students, who come and tell me what they would do, given half a chance.’

Karin Raeymaeckers: ‘A second important point is that we’d like to restore people’s pride in Ghent University. Previous incidents have smudged our image. We are a strong institution, and we’ll definitely survive, but it’s a far cry from how we’d like things to be. We need to get rid of this idea that we are just, kind of okay-ish. We’re a university that delivers work of the highest standard: in research, education and international cooperation.’
What if a professor from Ghent University hit the headlines for falsifying research results, as we saw at a Dutch university a few years ago? How would you deal with it?

Karin Raeymaeckers: ‘My background is in communications, and that’s also who I am. In that sort of situation the best thing you can do is stay cool, stick to the facts, and try to resolve the matter away from the prying eyes of the media. Fortunately, media coverage cycles that sour public opinion are short lived.’

‘The Dutch case was over the top, for sure, but these things are also a product of the system. People get caught up in the rat race, and it pushes them to the edge of their abilities. I would say that the pendulum of competition has swung too far. I see young employees coming in with enormous portfolios and at times I think, have you had any sleep in the last five years? It wasn’t easy for us either back in the day, but when I look at all the stuff these young people have to juggle I wonder, as a person approaching my sixties, whether we might be partly responsible for it. And I wonder if this relentless pursuit of quantity has pushed quality to the sidelines. The biggest publishers are not necessarily the brightest minds.’

‘I think the time for deliberation has arrived. The only issue though is that the first to abandon the rat race ends up footing the bill. It’s not something that Ghent University can decide alone. We are going to have to bring all the Flemish partners to the negotiating table.’
How well do you actually know each other?

Karin Raeymaeckers: ‘We know each other really well. We’ve been to each other’s houses (laughs) and our partners have met each other - albeit only recently. However, it’s the years we spent together on the Board of Governors that gave us a profounder appreciation for each other.’

Patrick De Baets: ‘Not to mention where we learned to argue (laughs). We come from very different backgrounds. I’m an engineer, so I tend to think logically and make decisions based on the figures. Karin is a communications scientist - and that tends to cover a lot of emotional ground. When I look at a situation for the first time I am usually quite dispassionate, whereas Karin has a warmer disposition. It’s a difference not of opinion, but approach.’

‘For example, we agree that individuals are more important than structures. But if you were to have a look at how we go about organising things, you’d begin to notice a few differences. Hard-nosed business as opposed to the softer skills, you might say.’

Karin Raeymaeckers: ‘Our particular blend of personalities and expertise gives a lot of added value, I think. As rector and vice-rector you have to divide the tasks, but take the crucial decisions together, as a complementary team.’
How would you describe one another?

Karin Raeymaeckers: ‘Patrick is incredibly sensible, unbelievably loyal and is a principled man. Let’s start with principled - what more do you need really?’

Patrick De Baets: ‘Karin is sincere and she wears her heart on her sleeve. She is very expressive and spontaneous, not to mention highly motivated. When she gets an idea she goes for it.’
And to end on a less serious note: where do you go to relax?

Kandidaten verkiezingen rector en vicerector: Karin Raeymaeckers en Patrick De BaetsKarin Raeymaeckers: ‘I live in Oostend, not far from the sea. Even during incredibly hectic phases, such as these, a little walk along the coast is enough to lower my stress levels.

Patrick De Baets: ‘Do I actually need to relax? It’s been said that my temperament is fairly phlegmatic, that I always keep the same pace. You won’t catch me running or racing around. I get that from my father. But there are times when I ride the bus to the final stop, only to turn around and walk part of the way back again. That’s how I go about sorting out my thoughts.’

Karin Raeymaeckers: ‘And then you probably catch the wrong bus.’

Patrick De Baets: ‘When I was still a student that actually did happen. I caught the morning bus to Oostakker, but it was only after seeing that there were no interim stops that I realised I was on a special shuttle for commuters. There wasn’t another bus home until late in the evening (laughs).’
Bio Karin Raeymaeckers
Candidate for the position of Rector

  • Schoten,° 1960
  • Doctorate holder and full professor of Communication Science
  • Member of the Faculty’s Board of Governors; Chair of the Communication Science department
  • Married to Rudy, and mother of Steven and Werner
  • Favourite pastimes: reading and theatre
Bio Patrick De Baets
Candidate for the position of Vice-Rector

  • Ghent,° 1966
  • Civil mechanical and electrical engineer
  • Doctorate holder and full professor of Machine Parts and Tribology
  • Academic secretary of the faculty of Engineering and Architecture and member of the Board of Governors
  • Married to Pascale, and father of Joséphine, Marie-Louise and Aristide.
  • Favourite pastimes: playing the organ