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Rector's Inaugural Speech

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Remarks of Prof. Dr. Hans van Ginkel on the Occasion of the Handover Ceremony for the UNU Rectorate
1 September 1997, Tokyo, Japan

Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear Guests, Dear Colleagues,

Dear Heitor and Lilian Gurgulino de Souza,

It is a great honour, a privilege and a challenge to take up now the office of rector of the United Nations University; a specialized organization created to bring international science and scholarship to bear on the concerns of humankind.

I take over the helm deeply conscious of the responsibility that it entails, both to the United Nations itself and the world at large -- in particular, after such a long and successful rectorate as the one of Rector Heitor Gurgulino de Souza, that has now come to an end.

The United Nations, and most certainly its university, can be grateful for the energy, creativity and expertise which you, Heitor, have invested in her. Time and again, you stressed the great value of the UNU as a mechanism to harness the inputs of scholars, the experienced and the young, in order to help solve pressing global problems. The great value of the UNU as a university is that it not only seeks responses at a theoretical level, but also concerns itself with the down-to-earth need for practical action.

When the financial conditions were difficult – and they were most of the time, but particularly so in the early stages of your rectorate – you went out into the world to collect support wherever you thought that this might be possible. Support for the RTCs and RTPs, the centres and programmes, that after all had to give the UNU its strength and quality as an academic institution. An academic institution with a very special task: the task to engage itself in research postgraduate training and dissemination of knowledge in furtherance of the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, through a central programming and co-ordinating body and a network of research and postgraduate training centres and programmes located in the developed as well as the developing countries.

You were actively and energetically seeking the establishment of such programmes and particularly centres. You never lost your optimism and cheerfulness, always looking for new solutions. I am sure that Lilian, your most trusted companion in life, did play a major role here.

Therefore, I would like to include her, explicitly, in our thanks. Sincere thanks for all the great gifts of mind and heart, that you, both of you, have devoted to the growth and development of UNU as a truly international university. At least a partial fulfillment of the longstanding ideal to create a “world university” first proposed immediately after the First World War, but much more strongly promoted in the sixties by such personalities as Mrs. Elizabeth H. Rose or Dr. Glen Olds – the former Ambassador of the United States to the Economic and Social Council, and the former Vice-Minister of Education, Dr. Hiroshi Kida, and the Former Minister of Education, Dr. Michio Nagai. My wife, Bep, and I also thank the two of you sincerely for the way you introduced us in the UNU community and UNU affairs. This will make our start here much easier and we do thank you for that.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

It has been my good fortune to have known each of the three previous Rectors personally. Each brought to this job their own particular background and cultural experience. The present global configuration of the UNU reflects, in varying degrees, the thinking and administrative styles of all three men. Their story, as I read it, is essentially one of change with continuity – and that is a core philosophy, which I intend to continue to uphold. Let me just say a few words about each man:

Dr. James Hester, the first Rector, was a leading American educator and a spokesman for urban, private higher education. A former Rhodes Scholar, whose field was international relations, he had the enormously difficult task of organizing this University from scratch. He faced a daunting task in being asked to, simultaneously, invent, fund, implement, popularize and justify the UNU.

To his great credit, he succeeded in making the UNU an operational, global institution during his time in office. Many of the basic organizational structures introduced during his five years remain today. The training programme for UNU Fellows was launched; it is today regarded as one of the substantial success stories of the University, with fellows holding policy-making positions of authority in many parts of the Third World. Also under Dr. Hester, research work began in the fields of food and nutrition, management of natural resources, and the non-economic side of development. The three initial programmes made important contributions to gaps in scientific knowledge. A substantial part of their work still figures in the agenda of the University.

The second Rector, Soedjatmoko, was an Indonesian scholar of development. As many of you may know, I, myself, was born in Indonesia in pre-independence days, so I feel perhaps a special kinship with the sorts of concerns he brought to the UNU. He brought a set of broadened intellectual concerns to the University: the daunting complexities of global change; the imperatives of economic interdependence; the surge of ethnicity; the spiritual dimensions to daily human existence; and the need to understand poverty and development in terms of millions of human actions. His abiding interest in such intellectual and ethical concerns lives on in many elements of the present work agenda.

During Soedjatmoko’s seven years in office, the University’s first Medium-Term Perspective was developed and launched. The initial research and training centre, WIDER in Helsinki, was established and became operational. It has since made important contributions to the world’s understanding of international economic interlinkages.

The third Rector of the University, from whom I take over the reins today, has done much to make the UNU a significant presence on the global academic scene, both physically and intellectually. Rector Heitor Gurgulino de Souza of Brazil has done so despite often-severe financial constraints, and has earned the appreciation of the international development community in the process. Under his skilled ten years of leadership, the UNU is now very much a going concern, with many notable achievements.

The University’s permanent headquarters here in Tokyo is up and running – as our very presence here today so amply testifies. There are now working UNU research and training centres or programmes on every continent – their work runs the gamut from the most ancient of human ills to the cutting edge of science. They are dealing with the interlinkages of health and water, improved management of resources, leadership qualities, the implications of new technology, or software needs if the Third World is to enjoy the full benefits of the Information Revolution. Certainly, a crowning achievement of Heitor’s tenure was the inauguration of the new Institute of Advanced Studies – which can do so much to integrate the efforts being made in the UNU’s global networks. Already, a vigorous academic community of scholars, from Japan and around the world, is taking shape there. They are specifically looking at original, forward-looking solutions to problems at the interface of societal and natural systems. Thus, as the fourth Rector, I take over with a rich and fertile loam to till – built on Jim Hester’s organizational skills, Koko Soedjatmoko’s deep intellectual and ethical concerns and Heitor’s immense building skills, both in bricks and mortar and academic programmes.

This would be too preliminary a moment for me to attempt to articulate, at great length, my own ideas for the University. Let me say that I hope I have demonstrated my awareness of the University’s record of accomplishments to date – and I hope to be able to cultivate the richness that is already there, perhaps finding new solutions from it. I have in mind, for example, the setting up of small groups of policy-oriented, creative-minded scholars who would seek to evolve fresh, alternative views on today’s problems. I am particularly concerned with getting useful research about pressing global issues into the hands of policy-makers. Very often, it is my experience, that very good, very relevant research lies unused, gathering dust in forgotten files and library shelves.

Some knowledge of what was tried and achieved in the past will make it easier to continue and to prepare for tomorrow. And prepare ourselves, the UNU, for tomorrow we will have to do.

Because – not only the UNU has changed considerably in the past two decades. The context, the world as a whole, its economic, political, social and cultural conditions, and most certainly, with it, the functioning of the United Nations itself, has changed too. This surely will have an impact on the future role and perspectives of the UNU. The proposals for re-organization of the United Nations, which were recently published by its Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, include a challenging invitation to play a leading role, in creating synergy within the knowledge infrastructure of the organization. UNU, indeed, must and is prepared to play such a role.

What will not change, however, are the essential aims, the purposes of the UNU, as these were laid down in the first Article of the Charter:

“The University shall (continue to) devote its work to research into the pressing global problems of human survival, development and welfare that are the concern of the United Nations and its agencies, with due attention to the social sciences and the humanities as well as natural sciences pure and applied.”

“The research programmes of the institutions of the University shall include, among other subjects, coexistence between peoples having different cultures, languages and social systems; peaceful relations between States and the maintenance of peace and security; human rights; economic and social change and development; the environment and proper use of resources; … and universal human values related to the improvement of the quality of life.”

“The University shall disseminate the knowledge gained in its activities to the United Nations and its agencies, to scholars and to the public, in order to increase dynamic interaction in the worldwide community of learning and research.”

“The University shall have as a central objective of its research and training centres and programmes the continuing growth of vigorous academic and scientific communities everywhere and particularly in the developing countries,…..”

“It shall endeavour to alleviate the intellectual isolation of persons in such communities in the developing countries which might otherwise become a reason for their moving to developed countries.” “In its postgraduate training the University shall assist scholars, especially young scholars, to participate in research in order to increase their capability to contribute to the extension, application and diffusion of knowledge.”

“The University may also undertake the training of persons who will serve in international or national technical assistance programmes, particularly in regard to an interdisciplinary approach to the problems with which they will be called upon to deal.”

At this stage, in my opinion, it is quite appropriate to go back to the text of the first article of the Charter in so much detail because, too often, it seems that parts of this mission have been forgotten, outside, but also inside the house.

In times of change, it is important to have a clear base to start from.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is quite clear, we are now entering a new phase in the development of the UNU. Much has been achieved; much more is still to be done. It is not really the right moment and anyway still too early to sketch detailed plans for the future. Nevertheless, a few first remarks should be made today.

I repeat:

It seems to be that such plans will have to be based upon the experience from the past and the positive elements of each of the three preceding rectorates. More than ever in the past, however, it will be necessary to build upon existing centres of expertise around the world -- to begin with those in Japan itself.

It will be equally important to strengthen the cohesion in the University, between the Centre and the various RTC/Ps, big and small, nearby and far-away. This includes a closer look at the management structure of the institution. The UNU Council already announced a 20-year evaluation. In this context, the Internal Assessment Group II has prepared its first report. This process will now be speeded up, in order to link it in an optimal way to the evaluation of the Joint Inspection Unit of the United Nations.

More cohesion also implies a further focussing of the research, training and dissemination activities within a few broad programme areas such as “Peace and Governance” and “Environment and Development.”

Without weakening its capacity for reflection and fundamental research, which makes the UNU really unique within the UN system, the “thinktank” function should be strengthened. Pro-active analysis of up and coming problems on the basis of the highest-level knowledge available worldwide and geared to the formulation of policy alternatives should get more attention.

And last-but-not-least: the financial basis should be strengthened and diversified through an increase of programme and project activities under contract or financially supported in other ways such as subventions and grants.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

The UNU was given a challenging and important task by its founders. Developments in the outside world have not made its task less challenging or important. On the contrary!

To fulfil this task all hands are needed on deck (“alle hens aan dek”). We in UNU appreciate the many important opportunities for cooperation:

Within Japan, with universities, NGOs, authorities and industry; Within the United Nations system, in particular, with UNESCO, UNDP, UNEP, UNICEF, WHO, individual member countries, etc.

Within the global academic community with associated institutions as well as individual universities and associations of universities; Like before, and perhaps even stronger now, we will try to develop fruitful programmes of cooperation within our capacity and to the benefit of all involved.

I am very grateful for all the support the UNU received in the past from both the Japan Foundation for the UNU (President Yotaro Iida) and the UNU Women’s Association (President Tamako Nakanishi). From my side, I will do all I can to establish and maintain a fruitful and friendly atmosphere of cooperation.

The UNU would, however, not be here if the Government of Japan, in particular Gaimusho, Monbusho, as well as the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, had not decided to host and continuously support the UNU. I wish to express my sincere appreciation and gratitude for this visionary decision. In my country we use a saying: “It takes a good friend to say the truth.” I think it is almost a universal saying. Your comments are therefore always welcome, as I am convinced that we have always been and will always be together in our efforts to make the dreams of the founding fathers of UNU come true.

It is for that reason that I am extremely worried about consistent rumors and whispering about the extent of budget cuts now being prepared now. We understand that all of us have to work as efficiently as possible and, of course, we are prepared to make our contribution.

But it is clear that deteriorating exchange and interest rates already have had an enormous impact. And it is difficult to see here a major difference, other than in legal terms, between obligatory and voluntary financial contributions to the UN system. To maintain cohesion, a strong directing role in an institution which for its financing is largely dependent on programme or project contracts and subventions, a strong basic infrastructure is absolutely necessary.

From the remarks I have made about the future it may have become clear that we need at this stage a strengthening of the strategic management of the UNU, not a weakening. And this is the direction we will go! Today and in the years to come, I will devote myself to the continued growth and effectiveness of the United Nations University.

I think this is enough for these first moments in this most challenging and exciting job. I look forward to working with the staff that already has been assembled. From my experience on the University Council, I can testify to their excellence and hardworking dedication. I will need all your help. Together, I think we can make the story of this very special institution a vital and flourishing one.

Thank you very much.

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