#WhereIsLodewijk?


by Lidia Paladini, United World College Maastricht Alumna
December 10, 2018


Dear Lodewijk,
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Today, it has been nearly seven months since my time at UWC Maastricht has come to a close. Strangely enough, leaving our little island on the outskirts of Maastricht felt like a burden and a relief at the same time. While I had mixed feelings about leaving, I was also full of anticipation for the new challenges to come.
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Staying closely in touch with many members of the community though and having been back in Maastricht a couple of times this year, I realized that many of the frustrations that I bottled up over my time at UWC Maastricht still remain unresolved until today. In line with these concerns, I have decided to address this letter to you, Lodewijk, in order to share a perspective with you that might at first glance seem personal, but that I know is widely shared by the rest of the community.
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While we can see you frequently in business journals, social media posts and media appearances, an actual conversation or your presence at community events is hard to spot. While we understand that being a head of school comes with diverse responsibilities of all kinds, we also want you to understand and remind you of the importance that you carry for the overall cohesion of our community in Maastricht.  To say it in your own words, “[…] an educational organization’s type of leadership will to a large extent determine the quality of personal transformation it instigates among its stakeholders.” (Van Oord, 2013) In the UWC educational model, it says: “Community interaction is placed at the heart of college life. This requires the full and active participation of all members of the school or college.” As our head of school, you hold a key role in securing the integrity of our UWC education and experience. While you might argue that your responsibilities lie in the realms of business, advocacy and policy rather than in community building, I argue that to truly understand and represent the interests of the school one needs to be closely in touch with those that lie at the heart of its community.
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Our school needs no more institutionalization, cementing the high hopes and idealistic efforts of the student body into just another brick in the wall of standardized international school education. It needs no more superficial branding that instrumentalizes our diversity for the sake of commercialization. It needs no more excessive expansions of the student body, abandoning quality for quantity and prioritizing the growth of the student body over the personal growth of the student. We understand that we, as a semi-public school, are faced with many restrictions that are rooted in Dutch law and policy, and have limitations that other schools do not. But we refuse to accept that as an excuse to stand by and watch as our school becomes nothing more than an empty shell of the United World College it aspires to be.
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What I believe the school really needs right now is leadership that sets an example in the spirit of Kurt Hahn’s values, guiding the energy of all members of the community to once again live up to the core values that we all pledged to live up to by being a part of the UWC movement. It is time to focus our efforts and attention away from the realms of business and into a bottom-up approach that gives a voice and platform to the students who are at the heart of our community. What the school really needs is transparency in school decisions, allowing the emergence of “collaborative decision-making processes aimed at human development and emancipation” (Van Oord, 2013). Instead of trust and mutual understanding, the current relationship between the leadership and the rest of the community is governed by anonymity and disconnection. As Kurt Hahn said: “If school is a ship, the students should not be seen as passengers but as part of the crew.” (Van Oord, 2010)
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Much rather than an accusation with a negative intent, this letter is meant to be a wake-up call from the side of the community, current students and alumni alike. It is our way of standing up against the slow decomposition of our community as we know it – one that is driven by sincerity, authenticity, genuine passion and the willingness to leave a positive impact on our surroundings. This letter is meant as constructive criticism, and it echoes the voices of many who are part of the community today, or have been so in the past.
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More than anything, however, it is an invitation for you to become a part of our UWC community here – not just symbolically, but consciously and in person. We invite you to get to know the community, the student body, that you claim to represent as a leader. We encourage you to come and seek the contact to students, to start conversations and to see with your own eyes just how powerful student voices can be. To listen to the concerns of the community and find a way to practise decision-making based on collaboration and mutual responsibility. We encourage you to experience the student-led conferences, “Say What!” lectures, performances, workshops, get-togethers and events that the community has carefully put together. And finally, we invite you to embark on a journey of transformational leadership and personal growth in your own community along with us.
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For we would then be able to learn, through active participation, how to engage in genuine leadership while contributing to the transformation of our school. (Van Oord, 2013)
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While in many ways, UWC Maastricht might only be another job for you, for many of us it is an integral part of our identity. It is an experience that has transformed our lives in more than only one way. It is what we fight for, what we believe in, and what we want to uphold for many more generations to come. UWC is something that is incredibly dear to us, and this an attempt to protect it from becoming a mere franchise in a world that is dictated by bureaucracy and business models.
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In hopes that this letter will be a starting point of a wider, bottom-up conversation about the importance of community, collaboration, transparency and integrity,

Lidia Paladini
UWC Maastricht Alumna (2016-2018)

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References:
Lodewijk van Oord (2013) Towards transformative leadership in education, International Journal of Leadership in Education, 16:4, 419-434, DOI:10.1080/13603124.2013.776116
Lodewijk van Oord (2010) Kurt Hahn’s moral equivalent of war, Oxford Review of Education, 36:3, 253-265, DOI: 10.1080/03054981003629870

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