News - November 2, 2017

Can we survive without the Aula?

Yvonne de Hilster

The university wants academic ceremonies to move to the planned Dialogue Centre on campus from the ‘Aula’, the auditorium in the town centre. The Aula, which dates from 1935 and is the only historical building still in use by WUR, no longer meets modern requirements. Can we do without it?

text Yvonne de Hilster  photo Sven Menschel

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Kiki Kots, PhD candidate and member of the EPS PhD council
‘I do see the benefits for WUR of having as many activities as possible organized on campus. It’s more practical and easier to reach with public transport. That also makes it easier for students and professors to attend official events. I’m not actually that bothered where I will have to defend my thesis. But I do find it a shame that all the old buildings at and around De Dreijen have been abandoned, only to throw up a whole load of new buildings on the other side of Wageningen. In my opinion, new buildings can never compete with old ones in terms of character. In the case of the old Aula, the building’s history and character definitely add to the atmosphere at ceremonies.’

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Gerry van Nieuwenhoven, programme director, BSc Communication and Life Sciences, BSc Health and Society, MSc Communication Health and Life Sciences
‘Good traditions should be respected. I realize there’s a problem with parking, but not having any graduation ceremonies in the Aula any more would be a loss for Wageningen. Graduation is something to celebrate, as well as usually being the moment when students say goodbye to Wageningen. Then perhaps wander through the town with their family and go out for a meal there one last time. If the ceremony is on campus, it will soon put an end to all that. The university was an integral part of Wageningen before the campus was built. It would be an eternal shame if all connections with the town were to be severed. In my opinion, the Master’s ceremonies should stay in the Aula for as long as they fit in there.’

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Walter Gerrits, professor of Animal Nutrition
‘I received my degree, defended my thesis and gave my inaugural lecture in the Aula. I can imagine they will come up with a location on campus that is just as fine for the person who is at the centre of all the attention. But I feel it’s a pity to leave the Aula. The venue has a historical feel that is in keeping with such traditional ceremonies. They are really just a big show, a parade of penguin suits, but the location gives the event cachet. It is also quite something for students and their parents to have the graduation in such a historic building. I don’t see the fact that the Aula is in the town centre as such a strong argument, though — it’s not actually that accessible.’


Ilonne Bongers, shopkeeper and soon to be Wageningen’s ‘town centre manager’
‘If the university abandons the Aula, it will make the town that little bit less lively. The graduation and PhD ceremonies bring groups of people to the town centre. They might buy some flowers or go out for a meal afterwards. One restaurant owner also told me they were unhappy with the plan to leave the Aula. We’ll have to wait and see whether people visit the town centre after a ceremony on campus. But I intend to carry on looking at how to collaborate; I do see ways of keeping the university’s links with the town. It’s nice if local residents also know what’s going on at the university.’

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Frits Huijbers, chair of the Old Wageningen history society and a former alderman
‘I can understand WUR’s position from a financial and economic perspective. But I think it’s a pity from the point of view of our heritage and sense of history. When Wageningen celebrated its 750th anniversary, the procession crossed the entire town. A lot of people thought that was a special moment. But you won’t go to the campus for that. WUR is part of Wageningen’s heritage. One hundred years of the university also means one hundred years of professors in the town. You’ll lose that if you don’t have the Aula. If WUR really does cluster all its activities on campus, WUR will drop off the radar of residents and tourists. And out of sight is out of mind, isn’t it? The Aula is a listed building, so it is not in danger of being demolished. But giving it a new function in the town will be quite a challenge.’

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Lorena Martinez, second-year Animal Sciences Master’s student
‘I studied at university in Mexico City before I came here. The big, old campus in the centre has some famous murals. But my faculty was outside the city and in new buildings. I missed that sense of history. I only discovered Wageningen’s current campus was not the first one or the only one after I had been here a while. Why are they no longer using the wonderful old Chemistry building, for instance? In Wageningen, you can’t separate the town from the university; the two are closely interconnected. Think of housing, for starters. I would rather get my degree certificate in the Aula than on campus.’

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Cees Leeuwis, professor of Knowledge, Technology and Innovation, and member of the Academic Board
‘The Aula is pretty much the last thing connecting the university to the town. Doing everything on campus might be efficient, but barricading ourselves in our own grounds does not send the right message to society. It’s no coincidence that Amsterdam, Utrecht, Groningen and Leiden still hold all kinds of academic ceremonies in historic buildings in the town centre. The buildings and grounds around the Aula could be transformed into a wonderful branch of that new Dialogue Centre. It would fit in well with Hotel de Wereld and its Capitulation Room. As far as I’m concerned, we could then continue having the graduation and PhD ceremonies and inaugural lectures there.’