A farewell full of challenges

The founder of the Bachelor College, Lex Lemmens, bid farewell on Friday with a COVID-proof program of events. To his surprise, he was awarded the TU/e honorary medal. This standard-bearer for the radical changes in education that took place at TU/e eight years ago is bringing his career to a close with a feeling of satisfaction.

by
photo Bart van Overbeeke

Past, present and future seem to form a common thread running through the official program held in honor of Lex Lemmens' departure. Owing to the COVID measures, only fifty-five guests are present in the Blauwe Zaal and a little fancy footwork is required during the changeover of speakers on the stage. The challenges of the day are in strong evidence here at this party for this advocate of challenge-based education.

Former Rector Hans van Duijn and present Rector Frank Baaijens are discussing the past with Lemmens. The three are seated in armchairs and their conversation is animated. Van Duijn recalls how twenty years ago he got to know Lemmens, then program director of Technology & Society (Techniek & Maatschappij). “Do you remember what song you used to sing?” he asks teasingly. And Lex has the answer: “TeMa is shit.”

Lex the Builder

“Back then the total number of students was seesawing around the one thousand mark and the success rates weren't great. Change was needed,” says Van Duijn. “And you made it happen. So we used to call you Lex the Builder.” As the emphasis on skills and societal engagement increased, more young women started coming to TU/e. While the current percentage stands at a pleasing thirty, there is still work to be done at Electrical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. “I've not gone round to that,” says Lemmens apologetically. “That is a challenge for my successor, Ines Lopez Arteaga.”

Van Duijn and Baaijens clearly express that what Lemmens achieved is no mean feat. Van Duijn: “Now and again we toyed with the idea of canceling the bachelor's programs, our 'junior department', and setting our sights on becoming a prestigious university running only master's programs. Yet again, he joshes with Lemmens: “But then you wouldn't have been sat here now.”

Lemmens recalls the doubts Van Duijn had about the Beam Your Dream campaign. [To persuade school pupils to study at TU/e - ed.] “‘Won't it be a mistake? Won't Delft end up with all the students because at Eindhoven everyone has their head in the clouds?,’ said Hans. But it helped. Now you can study Electrical Engineering here because, say, you want to design an incubator.”

Amazing brilliance

After Van Duijn and Baaijens have committed a tiny infringement of the COVID measures to dress their friend with a sash reading 'Mister Bachelor College', it is time for a more serious gift to be given. As soon as it was announced that Lemmens would be celebrating his farewell on August 28th 2020, Baptiest Coopmans, President of TU/e’s Supervisory Board, cleared his diary for the day. He wished to reserve time to make publicly known “the amazing brilliance with which the Bachelor College has been designed.” In view of this achievement, the Supervisory Board felt that Lemmens deserves the TU/e honorary medal. “Only a few people hold this medal, but we feel without a trace of doubt that Lex Lemmens belongs among them.”

Future

The Deans Lopez Arteaga and Paul Koenraad know they must continue Lemmens' work. In the hope of picking up some tips this afternoon, they ask him when he knew that TU/e supported his plans. “When I had the program directors and Hans van Duijn on board,” says Lemmens. “But as you know, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and it was only when the students starting arriving in great numbers and the atmosphere was palpably changing that I knew we'd nailed it.” TU/e innovation Space, he believes, is a significant added benefit of the switch to the Bachelor College.

In answer to the question what he would want to see in twenty years' time were he to visit TU/e, Lemmens promptly replies, “Whether they have managed to fit the chemistry department into a challenge-based education jacket.”

Thank you

Where there are many words of praise, many words of thanks are fitting. In his thank you speech, Lemmens makes particular mention of the lecturers of the basic courses “designing lectures for two thousand students at once - what a job!” and the USE courses. “I know there's some skepticism of these courses, but what an honor that the lecturer of the year 2019 is USE lecturer Johanna Höffken. That makes me feel proud.”

And then it is time for the last challenge of this gathering before the guests move to the Forum to enjoy a non-alcoholic beverage while seated in widely spaced chairs.

How can you work it so that a roomful of people can sing at the top of their voices at a time when choirs have been sent home due to the corona pandemic? By having everyone in the Blauwe Zaal wear a mouth covering. The specially adapted Abba song 'Thank You for the Music', accompanied by the Bachelor College Band performing for this one time only, sounds muffled but heartfelt.

Book of friends 2.0

No farewell would be complete without a Liber amicorum, a book of friends. The Communication Expertise Center has produced a modern version. Digital farewells are now being posted on lexlemmens.nl and for a whole year you have the opportunity to add your own.

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