The Shift of AUC’s Motto: Where Did “Excellence and Diversity” Go?

By Hazal Karaagac

Collage by Sabine Besson

The iconic motto of AUC, “Excellence and Diversity in a Global City”, has recently been lifted. Its absence on the AUC website is currently filled with “Studying liberal arts and sciences in a global city” as a mere replacement phrase. Behind this change was the agenda of the AUCNext initiative. The Herring has acquired insights from the people involved in the decision-making process of AUC’s renowned motto.

Marcus Smit, the Head of the Services and Communications Department and AUC’s Internationalisation Officer, provided historical context into the original motto. He stated, “The motto reflected a need for a programme where students could excel and would not be hindered by large lecture halls and the more impersonal, non-tailored, mass study programmes that the Netherlands had.” However, over time, the founding principles of AUC became less clear, and the motto’s failure to encompass the Liberal Arts and Sciences hindered its effectiveness. Smit says that the original motto did not explicitly reference Liberal Arts and Sciences, making it challenging for prospective students to grasp what studying at AUC truly entailed. As a result, the marketing and promotional value of the motto diminished over time. Recognising these shortcomings, AUC began exploring the development of a new motto that better communicated the university college’s distinctive attributes and educational experiences. He explains that he would be in favour of additions to a new potential motto pertaining to what a student learns at AUC and what the Liberal Arts and Sciences are or ought to be.

Prof. Dr Martin van Hees, the dean of AUC, addressed the concerns associated with the terms “excellence” and “diversity” in the previous motto. He highlighted that using “diversity” in the motto might give the impression that AUC had already achieved a perfect community, whereas the college strives for progress and inclusivity. He says, “using the term “diversity” in our motto claims that we are already there and doing everything perfectly. That was not the intention and was more of an ideal we try to progress towards”.

Regarding “excellence,” van Hees emphasises a shift in its interpretation: “Excellence, in our perspective, is a growth process in which excelling means developing your talents, yourself.” The decision to remove “excellence” from the motto aimed to prevent misconceptions and prioritise a more holistic approach to student development. Van Hees clarifies that the conceptualisation of excellence referring to academic results does not align with his thinking.  He says, “We do select our students and look at grades, but that is not the only part of what excellence means. It is also about students coming in and being able to form their path in the programme to develop themselves, and that is the notion of excellence I’m much more keen on”. Van Hees had previously vocalised this interpretation of the concept of excellence to The Herring. 

Daan van Schalkwijk, a tutor and lecturer at AUC who is actively involved in the AUCNext initiative, shared valuable insights into the drawbacks of the previous motto. He noted that “excellence” was often narrowly interpreted as achieving high grades, leading to undue pressure on students. He also acknowledged that “diversity” had multiple dimensions and varied interpretations among the faculty and students. Thus, he argues, “ I think it is a wise thing to keep on valuing diversity in its many dimensions while finding expressions that unify rather than divide.”

As AUC embraces this new chapter and works towards defining its renewed identity, van Hees extends an invitation to the AUC community, stating, “I would be interested in what a better way of articulating these values that we take to be so important.” In the spirit of collaboration, he encourages students, faculty, and staff to actively participate in shaping the future motto of AUC. By seeking a better match with the expectations of students and others, AUC aims to ensure that its motto resonates with the core values that make the college a unique and thriving academic institution. 

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