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Rector magnificus: “Talking with -not about- one another, that’s what we have to do”

In order to preserve TU/e’s informal work culture as the organization grows, Rector Magnificus Silvia Lenaerts and Integrity Ambassador Ingrid Heynderickx are reviewing the core values: personal, open, engaged and curious. Core values and culture - to some this may sound vague, but it isn't optional, Lenaerts is keen to stress. "If you refuse to engage in dialogue, you’ll have to start looking for somewhere else to work."

“A university’s most valuable asset is its people,” begins Lenaerts. “Which is why the culture is so important, and that starts with values.” Heynderickx nods in agreement, “I second that.” “That’s fortunate,” thinks your Cursor reporter aloud. Without missing a beat, Lenaerts picks up on this: “Yes, but she could have voiced her opinion even if she didn’t agree.”

Which brings us straight to the heart of the matter, as Lenaerts sees it: being able to talk with one another. “I want the dialogue to be the focus,” she says. “If someone isn’t treated properly, respond wholeheartedly and say ‘there’s no place for this in our culture’. Speak out there and then: ‘I don’t agree.’ Not afterwards or via long emails. Talk with not about one another.”

Are the current core values, adopted in 2021, no longer appropriate? “I think they’retoo general,” says Lenaerts. “I can’t tell whether they aren’t being adopted because people don’t believe in them or because they’re simply unaware of them,” says Heynderickx, pitching in. “So perhaps we simply need to publicize the old core values, or perhaps we need to update them.” According to Heynderickx, both options are still on the table.

TU/e’s uniqueness

Whatever is found to be the case, Lenaerts’ main concern is that the core values say ‘TU/e. “They must reflect our uniqueness. So that when people see our values, they say ‘this is about Eindhoven.’” TU/e’s uniqueness is already being projected, she believes. “Other universities often say, ‘Eindhoven has short lines and an informal culture.’” Heynderickx - who spent eight years as a part-time professor at TU Delft - confirms this. “Here, everyone knows the rector, in Delft I was glad simply to know a dean.”

Lenaerts is committed to preserving and strengthening this quality of TU/e uniqueness. While she’s enthusiastic, she’s also realistic about the risks. “As the university grows, we must be sure to preserve these desirable elements (like short lines, ed.).” She believes the current Values Project is a good practice ground.

People with two heads

A further challenge lies in individual and cultural differences, say Lenaerts and Heynderickx. After all, how do you choose core values that suit everyone? “You can have your own personal values, which may be very different, and rightly so. As long as they don’t create tension,” replies Heynderickx. “Suppose someone says, ‘I find it hard to accept people with two heads.’ That’s okay. However, the consensus is that people with two heads are welcome here,” she continues. Lenaerts’s comment on this point is emphatic. “If the personally held view becomes disruptive, there will have to be a dialogue. And if the individual is opposed to that, they’ll have to start looking for somewhere else to work.”

Empathy antenna

According to both women, managers play an important role in starting these dialogues. “If no one is talking, they must get the ball rolling. They’ll have to develop their empathy antenna,” says Heynderickx. They both envisage some obstacles. “It used to be, in the distant past, that you became a manager because you were the best researcher, not necessarily because you were a talented manager. Now there’s an awareness that this approach doesn’t guarantee the right choice.”

Not that all our managers should fear for their jobs. “We’ll encourage everyone to improve this skill (managing people, ed.),” Heynderickx explains. “If someone really doesn’t want to, or can’t, we’ll need to talk. While this conversation will recognize the value of their research, its starting point will be that someone else takes over leadership of the group.” Both Lenaerts and Heynderickx believe this approach will be met with understanding. “If you’re able to value people for what they do, and can deploy them in positions where they use their strengths, this won’t be seen as ‘I’m being demoted’ but as ‘I’m going to make better use of my strengths,’” says Heynderickx.

Values Project

But before all this comes into effect, the core values will be examined. Input sessions will be held on Wednesday March 27th and Wednesday April 3rd. Both employees and students will be able to join in the discussion to decide the right core values for TU/e. “As we speak, about a hundred people have signed up,” says Heynderickx. To cast the net wider than the usual suspects who are always eager to take part in this kind of thing, and to reach the silent majority, QR codes have been circulated on campus via the screens and coffee dispensers. “If you don’t have the time but you’d like to have your say, use the QR code,” explains Heynderickx.

Drawing on the input sessions, a select group - comprising professors, policy officers, one student and auxiliary staff - will submit a proposal. “If the proposal includes several alternatives, a round of scrutiny will follow until a consensus is reached,” Heynderickx explains.

“We’ll give the results a bigger launch at the opening of the academic year in early September,” she continues. The pair realize they’ll need to do more than simply announce the values, but as yet have no skeleton plan for putting the values into practice. “I don’t yet have a readymade answer to that question,” admits Heynderickx, “but it’ll be the focus of the coming months.” Setting a good example is an important start, believes Lenaerts.


Parallel to the Values Project, the Governance working group is addressing major changes within the university. This working group is focusing on the departmental structure and is investigating the scope for reducing the number of departments.

Whether it would have been better to establish the new core values before this working group makes its proposals is evidently a topic on which views differ. Lenaerts nods in agreement, but not so Heynderickx. “I’d hope that the culture is independent of the structure,” she says. Lenaerts nods understandingly, but doesn’t seem entirely convinced. “What’s good about TU/e is our short lines. We need to be careful that we don’t create governance that reduces people’s opportunity to express their views.”

Right here and now, with their difference of opinion, Lenaerts and Heynderickx demonstrate their primary objective within the Values Project: talking. Because despite their differing views of the situation, they are happy to enter into a respectful dialogue with one another.

Cursor asked students on campus if they knew the current core values. Watch the video below.

The TU/e is reviewing their core values: 'open', 'personal', 'engage' and 'curious'. Cursor's Question: Who knows our four core ...

Who knows our core values?

The TU/e is reviewing their core values: 'open', 'personal', 'engage' and 'curious'. Cursor's Question: Who knows our four core ...

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