Henk Witte on being Connected, Curious, Caring, and Courageous: “Values take time to mature”
Tilburg University is anchored in four values: Connected, Curious, Caring, and Courageous. These values mesh with the zeitgeist, Henk Witte believes, and it is being Courageous that truly captures the imagination. “I heard things like ‘Hey, that’s new. We’re so used to being careful.’”
As former Acting Dean of the Tilburg School of Catholic Theology (until February 2023) Henk Witte relished incentivizing the strategic theme of values. It started with preparing the strategy together with the Executive Board and Deans Consultations. This was the first thing the Emeritus Professor did as Acting Dean and he enjoyed the process. Being a theologian, he is used to abstract terms, and Connected, Curious, Caring, and Courageous are informed by Tilburg University’s open Catholic character and traditions. Both features are right up Witte’s alley, who previously pondered the question of what bearing the Catholic tradition has on privately-run education.
The time was ripe for new values, Witte believes. “We are at a turning point. Neoliberalism made the business model the dominant model for many years, in our organizational culture, too. The effect was high and constant pressure to perform, and the downside of such a competitive culture is that it always generates winners and losers.” But the domination of the business model is waning, and as a result the organizational perspective is changing. Witte points to the recent Willem Witteveen Lecture delivered by Rector Magnificus Wim van de Donk, who asserted that “students are not customers and the university is not a business but a civil society actor,” and Witte strongly concurs. “We are first and foremost a community dedicated to exploring and learning. And communities are guided by values. They’re not there for a market and for profit, but because they hold certain things dear.”
Young people have grown up as individuals and now long to connect in a community. This motivates them to work together.
Acting Dean of the Tilburg School of Catholic Theology Henk Witte
Connectedness is a sign of the times, Witte believes. That to him is highly relevant, because we should want our values and their impact to move with the times. In the current generation of young people he observes a strong desire to belong to a community. Things were different when he was a student. “People from my generation belonged to a community sharing the same norms. We longed to be free to be individuals. Today, it’s the other way round: young people have grown up as individuals and now long to connect in a community. This motivates them to work together.” Witte makes a point of noting that what young people are looking for is not so much a collective as a community of people who appreciate differences and embrace individual authenticity.
Overshooting the mark
In Tilburg University’s four core values Witte clearly recognizes the university’s Catholic legacy. “Catholic doctrine teaches us that we are part of a whole. We are connected with each other and with the Earth. And being connected with others invites us to be modest, open, and respectful. In other words, it all starts with being connected. Being curious and caring follows naturally. When we feel connected, we want to get to know the other and we want to be caring. Still, I don’t always find it easy to describe caring as a value. We should take care not to become too caring, overly protective. Caring for someone sometimes entails being strict, for example when raising children.”
Courageous, the fourth value, is more “autonomous” than the other three, Witte says, and he noticed that this value had a strong appeal. “I heard things like ‘Hey, that’s new. We’re so used to being careful.’” In ethics, courage is considered a virtue, a good quality. “Being courageous is the mindset that can help us being connected, curious, and caring. We want to be brave. Not heedlessly so, but responsibly. To me, Tilburg University’s decision to only award travel allowances to sustainable transportation is an example of being courageous.”
It takes a while for alumni to recognize the evolution they went through at Tilburg. That’s when appreciation begins. Values take time to mature.
Having values is not enough, we should also live by them, Witte believes. “That we value our values should show in our communication, for example in job vacancies and our code of conduct.” It should also show in our actions. “Aiming for connectedness will have to translate into more cooperation, for example between academic disciplines. The historians of various Schools are showing the way by offering a minor together. Many such initiatives will follow”. Whether the values will actually be observed mainly depends on how university staff behave, Witte points out. He also believes it will help to discuss the values from time to time; this will create learning opportunities. “In certain situations, we could review our conduct against the values and ask ourselves whether and how we live up to them.”
Values are not rock-hard rules of behavior that ought to be enforced, Witte reflects. They don’t always hit the mark straightaway. It is not unusual for students, who after all only study at Tilburg University for a fleeting period of time, barely realize that they pick up these values. Awareness often does not kick in until later. “It takes a while for alumni to recognize the evolution they went through at Tilburg. That’s when appreciation begins. Values take time to mature.”
Read more about the core values:
Suuz van Bommel and Joost Lamers on Connected, Curious, Caring, and Courageous: "The core values have the potential to speak to people"04th September 2023
The 2027 Strategy lists four core values the university aspires to make good on. Is it succeeding? At the end of their one-year term in participation, the outgoing chairs of student parties SAM and Fractie Front share their appraisal. “The core values can be used to shape ideas and input for the organization.”
'Weaving Minds & Characters' Strategy Towards 2027
Stay up-to-date on all strategic developments and activities leading up to our 100th anniversary.