The Opening of the Academic Year begins with the solemn arrival of the professors dressed in gowns, against the backdrop of two sober hymns: the Io Vivat and the Gaudeamus Igitur. The AI-themed programme is a jam-packed and varied sequence of formalities – from applauding for all the important board members and handing out awards, to dazzling performances, including the keynote speech by artist Refik Anadol.

As Anadol tells his story, about half the auditorium is transformed by his AI-powered art, which is projected onto the walls. He races through his slides while the constantly moving, changing, colourful shapes hypnotise the audience.

Bauhaus

Education alderman Said Kasmi can’t compete with that during the super-short ‘panel discussion’, where he is only able to take two questions (‘What can AI do for Rotterdam?’ ‘The staff shortages could be solved with self-driving vehicles.’). Executive Board President Ed Brinksma closes with a fascinating speech in which he recites poetry (in Portuguese!) and emphasises that you can become successful even (or precisely) without an education, like several gentlemen of the Bauhaus movement (architect Walter Gropius, artist Theo van Doesburg).

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Art, artificial intelligence and Gesamtwissenschaft at the Opening of the Academic Year

This year's Opening of the Academic Year centres around the theme of artificial…

After just under two hours (the programme runs half an hour over), visitors can finally head to the drinks event. President Brinksma, joined by his wife, promptly fills a cup with water after leaving the auditorium. He is satisfied with the opening: “There were a few technical glitches, but we did a nice job of showing how broad the theme of AI is.” Are there any people he’d like to chat with over a drink? “Well, usually people will approach me non-stop. First I’ll have a glass of white wine!”

More of a show than a serious event

Gert Goris Geert Stevens Ger Lugtenberg opening academisch jaar 2 – Tara Lewis
Gert, Geert and Ger look back on the ‘show with an academic twist’. Image credit: Tara Lewis

Unfortunately, that takes a while: a small army of waiters guards the bar. “Yeah, otherwise it will get crowded”, one of them explains. “Everyone ends up lingering here, so to keep a good flow we want people to walk through first.” Ger Lugtenberg, straw hat in hand, slinks away disappointed. “Until eight years ago I was the PR guy here, so I used to organise this party. It’s become more of a show than a serious event.” He is here with former colleagues Geert Stevens and Gert Goris. “Ger, Geert and Gert”, they all laugh. On the ‘show quality’ of the programme, Stevens says: “Once a year it’s nice, but I wouldn’t want to have a lecture like this. You don’t make much of a scientific impression on elderly people that way. So many awards, it drives you mad!” “A show with an academic twist”, Goris agrees.

Lugtenberg ‘takes it all in’, but does miss one element from ‘his’ time: “We used to sing the hymn all together with everyone in the room. Now there’s a CD playing, thankfully of the Erasmus Chamber Choir.” A host of former colleagues has now gathered around the three men, so they have to move on.

Getting to know people

Laura Rolsma en Lisanne Bos opening academisch jaar – Tara Lewis
LDE-trainees Laura Rolsma and Lisanne Bos hope to meet new people at the drinks party. Image credit: Tara Lewis

Just ahead are Laura Rolsma and Lisanne Bos, both of whom started as LDE (Leiden, Delft and Rotterdam) trainees on 1 September. They’ve enjoyed the opening. Bos: “They really do their best to make it hip and modern. That artist was fantastic.” Rolsma: “So cool that the singer Meau was there! What? You don’t know who she is?!” They hope to get to know new people at the drinks event, she says. Bos: “I was thinking more about having wine, beer and bitterballen. And then getting to know people after that.” Rolsma: “It’s really great to get a taste of the university atmosphere.” Bos: “And we’ll have something to talk about at the coffee machine tomorrow.”

Art goes further

Former Kunsthal and Rijksmuseum director Wim Pijbes is also at the opening. “What am I doing here? I was invited. I was curious about the new Rector Magnificus, but she actually had a very modest role today, just handing out an award. I’m going to have a beer with her in a bit.”

He was also impressed by Anadol. “I saw his work in New York four years ago. Really good that they invited an artist. Science is good, but art goes further. Art is limitless. Anadol said you can create anything with data, and I think that’s a fascinating statement.”

Wim Pijbes en Frans Weisglas opening academisch jaar – tara lewis
Former Kunsthal and Rijksmuseum director Wim Pijbes and former Dutch Parliament president Frans Weisglas have a chat. Image credit: Tara Lewis

Frans Weisglas, former President of the House of Representatives, walks by and shakes Pijbes’ hand. They have a chat about professors’ side jobs. Pijbes: “There’s a television programme about that tonight.” Weisglas: “As long as they’re transparent about it, but even then things can go wrong.” As an alumnus, he has attended the opening every year since his retirement. “Always great to talk to other alumni. I only understood 60 percent of that artist’s story. Wim, I’m sure you understood the whole thing!”

Lara Macarena en Julia Picazo opening academisch jaar – Tara Lewis
Lara Macarena and Julia Picazo found the emphasis on technology and art interesting. Image credit: Tara Lewis

In the meantime, musical accompaniment plays at the rear of the C-hall. It doesn’t draw much interest, except from the enthusiastically dancing student Julia Picazo, who is there with Erasmus-X researcher Lara Macarena. Macarena: “I thought the technological topics were very interesting. Those are themes that we really should be talking about. AI is here to stay, after all.” Picazo is pleased with the emphasis placed on art. “That really showed the potential of AI and invited us to think with an open mind about how AI can be used.”

Vegetarian bitterballen

The drinks event is coming to an end when Laura Gasco and Iris Daleweij, both Media and Business Master’s students, come through the revolving door. Daleweij: “Laura recognised me from the introduction event and came up to me in the queue.”

Laura Gasco Christian Granaldi Iris Dalewij opening academisch jaar – Tara Lewis
Highlight for students Laura Gasco, Christian Granaldi and Iris Dalewij? The vegetarian bitterballen. Image credit: Tara Lewis

Gasco was impressed by the programme: “Prior to this I studied in Turin, and that’s a big difference compared to the scale here. It was cool to see the professors dressed in their gowns, walking around with a drink.” Daleweij: “I came for the artist.” Gasco: “The art was breathtakingly beautiful. I came to experience all aspects of university life. I’m new to the city, after all. And the vegetarian bitterballen were amazing. It’s great to experience the local cuisine here as well.” Daleweij also raves about the snacks: “We chased after the tray”. Italian exchange student Christian Granaldi chimes in: “I’ve only been here for a few months, so I want to do as much as possible. Free drinks? I’m your man!”

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