In Memoriam Hans van Ginkel (1940 - 2023)

In memoriam Hans van Ginkel
Hans van Ginkel. Photo: Ivar Pel

We received the sad news that on July 27th, Hans van Ginkel passed away. From 1986 to 1997, Hans van Ginkel served as the rector magnificus of Utrecht University, making him the longest-serving rector the university has ever had. His fellow geographer Pieter Hooimeijer described him in 2001 on the occasion of his departure from the faculty as "an outstanding team player." He "has always played the role of a captain with enthusiasm to keep the team united and perform better together." He demonstrated this not only as a dean but also as a rector in Utrecht and Tokyo.

His tenure as rector in Utrecht occurred during a turbulent period for higher education. The 1980s and 1990s were marked by frequent government interventions. Innovations such as conditional research funding, focal point policies, national research schools, planning and control cycles, and administrative reforms were introduced. One of the low points was the cost-cutting operation "Taakverdeling en Concentratie," which led to Utrecht having to relinquish programs like Dentistry and Classical Languages. In response, Van Ginkel sought to inspire the university with new enthusiasm, encapsulated in his vision that Utrecht should become the "Berkeley of Europe."

Van Ginkel was born on Sumatra in 1940. During the Japanese occupation, he, his mother, and his brother were interned in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp. Sadly, his mother did not survive the camp. His father, a professional soldier, was a forced laborer on the infamous Burma Railway. After returning to the Netherlands, Van Ginkel attended the HBS in Roermond before enrolling as a student at the Geographical Institute at the Drift. He graduated cum laude and became a geography teacher at a secondary school. A year later, his mentor A.C. de Vooys offered him a position, including the opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. From the late 1960s, the influx of students at Utrecht was so great that research took a backseat, and his time was almost entirely dedicated to teaching. The students were not disappointed; Van Ginkel was an excellent and beloved teacher. It is no surprise that the Association of Utrecht Geography Students (V.U.G.S.), of which he was vice-chair during his studies, appointed him an honorary member.

Nevertheless, he completed his Ph.D. in 1979, once again with honors, on a topic related to an assignment from the National Physical Planning Agency concerning housing in the Randstad. From 1980, Van Ginkel held successive positions at Utrecht University, including Professor of General Human Geography, Dean of the former Interfaculty of Geography & Prehistory (which later merged into the Faculty of Spatial Sciences), and, from 1986, rector magnificus. In 1997, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed him as rector of the United Nations University (UNU) in Tokyo, where he remained "in charge" for a decade. He continued his association with Utrecht University as a part-time professor until 2001. After returning from Tokyo, he accepted a guest professorship in "Sustainable Urban Futures" at the Faculty of Geosciences in 2008.

In his scientific work, Van Ginkel engaged with a broad range of themes and regions. His research covered topics such as urban and population geography, regional geography of the German Democratic Republic and Southeast Asia, and the school subject of Geography. He served as an advisor to the Royal Dutch Geographical Society and authored or co-authored over sixty scientific publications, including the geography textbooks "General Social Geography" (1984) and "Netherlands in Parts" (1989).

The UNU focuses on global themes such as peace and security, urbanization, natural disasters, and sustainability. Van Ginkel's main achievement was forming networks of universities worldwide to address these themes. For his contributions to the UNU, he received a high distinction from the Japanese Emperor in 2007. According to Ublad - the print precursor to DUB (Dutch University news) - Van Ginkel "reportedly had more influence on the international political stage than Lubbers, Balkenende, and Pronk combined." He also received various honorary doctorates from universities in California, Slovakia, Canada, and Ghana. In 1994, he was already appointed as a Knight in the Order of the Dutch Lion.

Utrecht University will remember Hans van Ginkel with great gratitude.