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Jacinda Arden at the Inauguration of the 936th Academic Year of the University of Bologna

The former Prime Minister of New Zealand gave a lecture on leadership in times of crisis, focusing on the impact of climate change, inequality, technological revolution, global conflicts, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the threat of pandemics. The Rector then presented her with the University Sigillum Magnum, the University of Bologna's highest honour

The inauguration of the Academic Year 2023/2024 of the University of Bologna, the 936th since its foundation, was celebrated with a ceremony at the Theatre Auditorium Manzoni in Bologna on Wednesday 20 March 2024.

The Rector Giovanni Molari opened the ceremony with a speech focusing on the objectives, challenges, and results achieved by the University over the past year, considering the ever-increasing political and humanitarian crises. The climate crisis has also significantly impacted the University of Bologna, starting with the flooding last May in Romagna and in the Multicampus sites. At present - said the Rector -  “Italian Universities struggle to find a solution that enables us to collectively engage and collaborate with various political, social, public, and private stakeholders, fully aware of our capabilities and roles. In light of this unresolved issue, I believe that a university such as the University of Bologna is even more responsible to adopt measures and strategies that are not only effective at the local level, but exemplary at the national level”.

In 2022, the University of Bologna made many significant investments to recruit staff and support research. Over 50 million euros have been allocated for equipment and laboratories, “because the University is the engine of scientific activity in the country” - stated the Rector.

The Rector also emphasised the commitment of the university to delivering high-quality and sustainable teaching, as well as the decisive choice for a return to in-person classes. This includes the issuing of the on-site TOLCs, refusing remote testing, unlike many other Italian universities. Criticism was reiterated against online universities, “they are neither a model of highly qualified university education nor an adequate response to students' economic difficulties.” Molari also highlighted the importance of providing support to students in economically disadvantaged situations, thanks to the constant collaboration with ER.GO. The implementation of a more organised and efficient plan for university buildings was discussed, along with the development of the University's first energy plan. This plan already reduced consumption by 10% in 2023 and will allow the installation of 1 MW of photovoltaic panels in the university buildings by 2024.

The Rector also recalled the University of Bologna's ongoing commitment to caring for people, through the enhancement of community services, from psychological services for students and staff to the helpdesk against gender-based violence.

Finally, Molari highlighted the intention to strengthen the sense of community, to foster a better working environment and increase pride in belonging to a large public state university that aspires to significant achievements. He also mentioned the University’s great responsibility towards healthcare: “We have made our strategic vision and skills available to contribute to an overall reorganisation of the system in the metropolitan area of Bologna and in Romagna. We can offer a model of institutional collaboration of national relevance. Let us make the most of it.”

“The University of Bologna belongs to the world, -  said the Rector, explaining the reasons behind the invitation of Jacinda Ardern to the University -  and precisely for this reason, we were adamant in wanting the former Prime Minister of New Zealand to be with us. A woman who comes from the other side of the planet, who is admired globally for her courageous measures against poverty, especially child poverty. She has been prompt and firm while dealing with moments of crisis and destabilisation. She has fought for rights, dialogue, and mutual respect, in religious and civil matters and gender equality.” 

“Today, universities are strongly interconnected with their host cities,” said the Minister of University and Research, Anna Maria Bernini. “Bologna is an example of this. It is a university that does not rely solely on tradition but also on its ability to be innovative and connected with everything that benefits its territories”.

Among the scheduled interventions were those of the representative of the technical-administrative staff Federico Barbino, and the student representative, Francesca Saccardi. Both speeches drew attention to the serious humanitarian situation of the Palestinian population. This is an urgent issue on which the Academic Senate also spoke the day before the ceremony.

This was followed by the long-awaited lecture by Jacinda Ardern titled “Leadership in the age of crisis”. (Full lecture Ardern)

“Faced with threats such as the consequences of inequality, massive technological disruption, global conflict, the resurgence of nuclear proliferation , and pandemics -  said Ardern -  we must confront the fear of compounding existential threats, but also the anger that these threats are of our own making, and the frustration that any global solutions will either be delivered or derailed by those who choose to do the least.”

According to the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, it is difficult to face any challenge with an open mind and confidence if one feels neglected, ignored, or is struggling to survive. “To build healthy and confident societies - she continued - we must start from the basics, and that means poverty, achieving fair gender representation in leadership roles, as well as equal pay for both sexes, without ever losing ambition to maintain a sense of expectations”.

“There are numerous long-term challenges that require our ambition, such as those related to climate change, motivating people to find solutions when change is difficult and uncertain”. 

Finally, Ardern focused on values such as fairness, kindness, empathy, curiosity, and courage. These are values that a good leader should transmit in times of crisis (and beyond) to foster respect for differences, with the ambition to lead rather than govern for a change that can improve the world.

Following the ceremony, the Rector presented Jacinda Arden with the University Sigillum Magnum. In the evening, at 9 p.m. in the Aula Absidale of Santa Lucia, the traditional concert for the inauguration of the Academic Year was scheduled. The Collegium Musicum Orchestra conducted by Alissia Venier performed a repertoire exclusively composed of Mozart's works.