“We had to close our doors, but the university kept running"

Rik Van de Walle
Rik Van de Walle
Rik Van de Walle is a professor at the faculty of Engineering and Architecture and rector of Ghent University.

You might have read about it or heard about it: on 21 March 2020, spring would have a cheerful start with the opening of the GUM, the Ghent University Museum. It would be a memorable weekend with lots of people, surprising displays, unexpected discoveries and a unique glimpse into the mind of the scientist. It would've been a much talked about Ghent University event.

'Would'. Because when the coronavirus started to spread in our country that same month, the GUM's opening weekend and many other activities were cut short. We had to close our doors. But the university kept running.

Within a few days, we switched from on-campus to online. A lot of overtime was and still is spent recording and streaming lessons, taking exams in a secure environment, reorganising research activities, adapting the IT infrastructure, etc. The university was able to keep up with the pace. Not to mention the hustle and bustle at and around Ghent University Hospital and among the groups doing research into a possible vaccine or medicine, into methods for testing or tracing, into instruments for social and economic revitalisation ... After all, that is also what Ghent University is all about: not only are we undergoing the consequences of the pandemic, we are actively looking for ways to combat COVID-19, to contain the spread of the coronavirus, to find an optimal modus vivendi.

The last few months have been intense and stressful. Of course, the conditions were far from ideal for studying, teaching or doing research. But at these difficult times, I have seen a lot of wonderful things at Ghent University. Creativity and ingenuity to come up with new solutions. Sense of entrepreneurship and decisiveness to develop these ideas at a rapid pace. Solidarity too, and a great ability to learn and adapt. Both among staff and students.

We do not know what corona will bring. We do not know what corona will bring. I do know that we can rely on Ghent University and everybody involved. To make the best of it in all circumstances. To make the 'best' even better. That will be proved again in the coming weeks and months. With both familiar and new forms of education. With research that continues to push the boundaries of our knowledge. With scientific expertise at the service of people and society. And with the postponed opening of our Ghent University Museum. Where displays will continue to surprise and discoveries will be unsuspected. Where that unique look in the mind of the scientist will prove to be more relevant than ever.