Rector Králíčková takes inaugural oath

Thursday, 03 March 2022 21:00

The inauguration of Professor Milena Králíčková, the new Rector of Charles University, took place on 3 March 2022 at the historic Carolinum. She succeeds Professor Tomáš Zima who served for two consecutive terms. The new rector's term of office will last until 31 January 2026.

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For some 400 attendees as well as academics and members of the new rector’s team and the new rector herself, this was nothing if not a festive afternoon. The excitement was palpable as visitors filled the Great Hall, the afternoon sun shining down through the buildings tall windows. In the life of any university, the inauguration of a new rector is a special event. For one, it takes place only once every four years. Thursday afternoon was historic also because it is the first time since its founding in all the way back in 1348, that Charles University is being headed by a woman. Professor Králíčková is the 509th rector in the school’s history.

The inauguration ceremony began with the arrival of the academic procession to musical accompaniment of the Carolinum’s pipe organ and trombones. The incoming rector, accompanied by her predecessor, entered the main hall through the Hus Entrance.

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Proceedings began with a minute of silence dedicated to the victims of the war in Ukraine which has been on so many peoples’ minds. Professor Jan Kuklík then took the floor, welcoming the guests present. In his opening speech as the new Vice-Rector for Academic Appointments, he recalled the process that had preceded the inauguration: a vote by secret ballot last fall (22 October 2021) by the Academic Senate of Charles University to choose the next rector, and then Professor Králíčková’s appointment by the head of state in late January. The vice-rector introduced the entire new team: eight new vice-rectors on the Rector’s Board and eleven members of the Rector's College.

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Following long-held tradition, the outgoing rector, Tomáš Zima, presented a final evaluation report, looking back on his two four-year mandates at the head of the university. “Eight years in a human life is a relatively long stretch, but in the history of our alma mater it is only a sliver.” He discussed the concept of a modern university focusing on the following: tradition, humility, responsibility, vision, humanity and courage. Looking back, he outlined achievements during his tenure, from the founding of the prestigious 4EU+ Alliance, bringing together Heidelberg University, Sorbonne Université, the University of Warsaw, the University of Milan and the University of Copenhagen and Charles University, to gaining institutional accreditation for more than two dozen fields of education, the creation of an internal evaluation system, the approval of 600 study programmes and more than 200 hundred study programmes in foreign languages.

“Today, Charles University is in the top one percent of universities in the world,” said Zima, adding: “In recent years, a number of important buildings have been started or new buildings have been opened. Among the most important ones are the construction of the Medical and Pharmaceutical Faculty Campus in Hradec Králové (MEPHARED), the construction of the University Medical Centre Campus in Pilsen (UNIMEC) and the preparation of the university's largest project in the last hundred years, the Albertov Campus. Charles University took a proactive approach during the Covid-19 pandemic, relying on volunteers and help of its students, doctors and teachers.” At the end of his speech, Zima, now Rector Emeritus, thanked all those who helped and supported him in his work.

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Professor František Zahálka, the Chairman of the Academic Senate of Charles University, had the pleasant task of officially introducing the new rector to attendees, focusing on her professional activities, as well as describing the role of the rector in today’s complex world, requiring the qualities of a top scientist and researcher on the one hand, and top managerial skills on the other. Both, he said, were a prerequisite for a job that has clearly grown more demanding over time.

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Then it was time for Rector Milena Králíčková to receive the insignia of office and symbols of rights and duties, i.e. the seal, the key, the Rector's ring and the Rector’s gold medal, from Tomáš Zima. “The medal is an expression of the dignity of the highest academic office of Charles University and the chain represents the weight and responsibility of the Rector's office," Vice-Rector Kuklík explained. Then Professor Milena Králíčková took the oath of office, subsequently presenting the outgoing rector Tomáš Zima with a gold commemorative medal for his exceptional contribution to Charles University and the promotion of its good name at home and abroad.

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In her inaugural speech, Rector Milena Králíčková also followed tradition, speaking of her career-long professional and scientific focus: histology and embryology, overlapping with a clinical specialisation in gynecology and obstetrics. In view of the current international situation, she discussed the role that universities play in broader society and presented her vision for the university over the next four years. 

“I consider the years I have spent working in maternity wards a great gift. Newborns represent the highest value of our civilization: every child born is proof that God has not turned away from us. Each human being is born inherently good and is born a free being with inalienable rights. I would like us to not forget this.” She continued: “Our university is a complex, intricate organism. It has a long and glorious history, but I want it to also flourish in the future.” The rector also pointed to sustainability as a major issue moving forward. Each of us, she said, could do our part.

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Rector Králíčková also reflected on current developments in Europe, namely the continuing assault on Ukraine. She said that universities played an irreplaceable role not only in the education and upbringing of the young generation, but also in influencing the broader public. She said that a joint statement of the Czech Rectors' Conference on the war in Ukraine on 24 February, strongly condemning Russia's actions and standing with an independent and free Ukraine, had shown that people “could unite on fundamental issues and help together.” At the end of her speech – smiling but suddenly overcome with emotion – the rector did not hide her emotions but thanked her loved ones, her family, saying that without their support, she could not be where she was today.

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The festive afternoon and ceremony were underscored by fanfares by the Prague Trombonists (who only play only at special events of Charles University). The pipe organ accompaniment was performed by CU’s very own Jan Kalfus

It rarely happens - if at all - that the wide area of Ovocný trh (named after a historic fruit market that once existed there) adjacent to the Carolinum would fill up with cars. But that was the case on Thursday, cars with license plates from all parts of the Czech Republic, that only began to roll out sometime after 4 pm, after the ceremony had ended.

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Author: Marcela Uhlíková
Photo: Vladimír Šigut, Martin Pinkas

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