New rector Peter-Paul Verbeek fell for the DNA of the UvA

Rector Magnificus Peter-Paul Verbeek on his first working day

Rector Magnificus Peter-Paul Verbeek on his first working day

’An offer you can’t refuse’ is how Peter-Paul Verbeek describes the proposition that he leave his position of university professor of Philosophy of Humans and Technology at the University of Twente to become rector magnificus of the University of Amsterdam. Today, Monday, 3 October, is his first working day in his new job. Who is Peter-Paul Verbeek and what is his view of the UvA?

It was love at first sight with the UvA, begins Verbeek. ’In all the conversations I had in the run-up to my appointment, it was obvious that the UvA was marked by enormous passion for research on the one hand and a very high level of social commitment on the other. Those are exactly the things that I personally find very important in science. Moreover, the UvA is a progressive university that wants to forge new paths and has a leading position both nationally and internationally. I wasn’t necessarily looking for a new position, but it quickly became clear to me that it could only go one way: everything seemed to fit just right.’

The same DNA

’As a technology philosopher, I always strive for a combination of theoretically innovative work and social impact: I see this strongly in the DNA of the UvA,’ continues Verbeek. ’You hold the position of rector as a professor; it therefore also includes a - modest - role in education and research. In recent years, partly due to the content of my research, I have taken on more and more administrative roles at the Rathenau Institute, research funder NWO, and UNESCO’s World Commission for the Ethics of Science Knowledge and Technology. As rector, all the different areas covered by those roles come together.’

UvA versus University of Twente

’The universities are very similar in terms of social engagement, interdisciplinarity and striving for scientific excellence. At the same time, they also differ, especially in shape and size: the UT feels more like one large community and the UvA feels like a collection of several communities.’

Staying involved in education and research

As rector, Verbeek would like to remain involved in education, for example in the field of the ethics of technology or scientific integrity. ’Not only because I really enjoy teaching, but also because I want to stay connected with the daily practice of the university. I also want to keep doing research, but of course there will be much less time for that. I’m finishing another book, and a colleague and I recently started an online open access journal: the Journal of Human-Technology Relations. I am also one of the principal investigators in a large, ten-year research programme into the influence of technology on ethics.’

Influx of international students

According to Prime Minister Rutte, institutions that are finding the influx of international students too large to handle could choose ’to switch from English back to Dutch’. Verbeek: ’I think the UvA’s choice to be a bilingual university is a very sensible one. University courses offer students a broad education to prepare themselves for a role in society or in academia. An international orientation, bringing with it the experience of studying with a very diverse group of people, is obviously a very important part of this. At the same time, the Dutch language is also important: we are not only an international player, but also a Dutch university at the heart of Dutch society. Going back to Dutch, as the prime minister suggests, is not a realistic option for many of our courses. Sticking to bilingualism is.’

Dilemmas for Peter-Paul Verbeek

Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram?
’Twitter, even though a lot of unpleasant things happen there. Lots of current discussions take place on Twitter, and it’s a great way to stay up to date and keep people informed. By the way, I can be found on all three channels.’

Lobbying or the barricades
’If I had to choose, I would say: lobbying. The barricades are especially important for raising issues, but not for solving them. However, lobbying sounds a bit too much like ’strategically pursuing your own interest’. I believe more in looking for what connects people and what they want to achieve together.’

I Amsterdam or Twente jezelf
"I love both! Incidentally, the Twente variant of I Amsterdam is IK BENschede. Amsterdam is of course the city of all Dutch people. And now that I am rector of our great university, I can no longer ignore it: I Amsterdam.’

Hard not to know Amsterdam

How well does Verbeek already know Amsterdam? ’It’s hard not to know Amsterdam and even harder not to love Amsterdam,’ he says. ’I visit the Concertgebouw regularly; last year not only for classical music, but also, for example, for a lecture by psychotherapist Esther Perel and a concert by the rapper Sor, which one of my children took me to. Ever since I became a member of the Young Academy, and certainly now as a member of the ’old’ Academy of Sciences, I can be found regularly in the Trippenhuis. Furthermore, De Waag, where much critical reflection on technology and society takes place, is an important location for me. One of my favorite places at the UvA for is the Institute for Advanced Study, which I already knew due to my field of academic endeavour. Great things are happening there non-stop, with all the faculties working together. But now I look forward to getting to know all the university locations and the entire UvA community.’

To the final question ’What should everyone know about you at the UvA?’ Verbeek says: ’That I feel responsible for the proper functioning of the entire UvA, and that I want to be a rector for everyone. And that I am a music lover, like to play the piano, and I love cooking and good food.’


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