“It Is Perfectly Acceptable that AUC Means Different Things to Different Students and Staff” – Interview with Marianne Riphagen, AUC’s New Director of Education

Interview by Ronja Boer

Collage by Sara Serrano

Academic building, second floor: In the kitchen area next to the management department, new Director of Education Dr. Marianne Riphagen hastily eats an avocado – a quick break before her next appointment. Since 1 February, she has replaced Dr. Michiel van Drunen, who has started a new position as Director of Education at the VU School of Business and Economics (SBE).

Despite a busy schedule and a plethora of new responsibilities, she will maintain a relaxed smile throughout her interview about her old and new role at AUC.

The Herring: From September 2019 until the end of this January, you were Head of Studies Academic Core at AUC. What was most important to you in that role?

Dr. Marianne Riphagen: The most important was to collaborate closely with my colleagues who teach in the Academic Core and to make sure that they were facilitated in being the best teachers they could be. That seems easy, but is actually complex, because there are a lot of people in the Academic Core. It was an interesting job to make sure that they feel sufficiently equipped to shine.

Now you have assumed the position of Director of Education at AUC. How do you see this background being translated to your new position?

I applied to become the Head of Studies Academic Core because I love the Academic Core. I was teaching in it, but also thought that I can make a difference. But I could have never imagined before what it means to lead and be responsible for a team. I learned so much from the people in the Core about what a person needs to flourish, how to allow people to fulfill their ambitions and aspirations, and how to collaborate in a way that makes people feel empowered. Also, whenever you encounter a concern, there is often an interesting story behind it. To have the ability to uncover that story makes a better leader. All these things will come in handy in the role of Director of Education.

How do you let faculty and students flourish or fulfill aspirations?

I think it starts with active listening; trying to understand where people come from.  However, I also have to be responsible and address that there are also constraints, and the reason that I know the constraints is because I have access to different information because I fulfil a different position. We can then together explore how we can maneuver within the freedom available to us.

You become Director of Education at a time when a lot of things are changing in AUC’s curriculum. In particular, a lot of Academic Core courses will be changed or even removed. What do you think about these decisions? 

It is an exciting time, but can also feel daunting. A lot of the changes are connected to AUC Next, but the decision-making process is done. Now it is mostly about how we together as a community shape the implementation of the plan. I’m just one partner in this process, so I see myself mostly as someone who needs to ensure that the processes are arranged in a way that works for the whole community. 

What are you concerned or excited about for this implementation?

We give students much more insight into what is possible when it comes to interdisciplinarity in our programme. We have always talked about interdisciplinarity and we have reworked this into the introductory courses of the Academic Core. The Big Question courses have been completely revamped, but we still found students don’t always see where interdisciplinarity happens. For instance, students come to AUC with a passion because they love the sustainability questions or because they are passionate about questions regarding the connection between society and computers. So they don’t arrive here with a specific disciplinary focus, but with a broader perspective.  AUC NEXT focuses on helping students gain more insight in how they can fulfil their interests in interdisciplinary subjects by showing where such subjects materialise in our majors and how courses in different majors connect to explore and question such subjects. 

In a previous interview with The Herring, your predecessor mentioned that he was concerned about how AUC students see the programme as a mere stepping stone to a Master’s programme. Do you share that sentiment?

I don’t share his concern. AUC needs to have a coherent narrative to prospective students, employers and current students. In that identity we have our emphasis on interdisciplinarity, the Sciences and individual choice. But I think it is perfectly acceptable that AUC means different things to different students and staff. It is okay to allow for plurality in that interpretation. As an admissions reviewer, I see that most applicants don’t have a strong disciplinary focus. As a college, we have a responsibility towards our students to facilitate their further studies. It is good to encourage their breadth, but to not take away their ability to obtain depth in their learning.

What are the most pressing matters for AUC in the coming years that we need to look out for?

AUC is going to be engaged in conversations about adapting the academic calendar to ensure that the intensity of our current calendar is changed. Staff and students will experience more moments during which they can catch their breath and do different things than teaching and sitting in the classroom. AUC will be actively participating in a pilot at the UvA about potentially making adaptations to the academic calendar. This is a big thing for us and may bring really positive outcomes.

Photo by Sara Serrano

Although Dr. Marianne Riphagen has an impressive résumé including her work as a cultural anthropologist in Australia, acquiring a PhD from Radboud University Nijmegen and receiving an Endeavour Europe Award in 2006, her busy schedule does not prevent her from enjoying a social life not so different from that of her students. The mother of two enjoys dinners and lunches with her friends, many of which she met during her college days. To unwind, Riphagen likes to watch cheesy Netflix shows, currently making her way through Bridgerton and accompanying her kids at sports games.

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