The Czech Republic's oldest and most prestigious institutions, Charles University, has just welcomed a new rector: 44-year-old Vaclav Hampl, a well-known medical researcher with extensive experience in the US. Dr Hampl is planning to introduce a number of important new projects at the university to help modernise the institution. Linda Mastalir asked him how he balances life as a university professor, an active medical researcher, a husband and father of three.
"So far it hasn't been a big problem even though it's quite busy, especially with small children. But so far it was possible also thanks to my mother and my wife's mother—they are very nice to us and willing to help, so that's good and we will see tomorrow."
You're taking over this role as Rector and you're quite young. How do you see the future of Charles University and your role as Rector?
"As for the future of the university, I really want to strengthen its position as the number one university in the Czech Republic. It's already definitely number one, but I think this needs to be strengthened. I also want Charles University to grow in its international reputation, in its international recognition. There's a lot to be done here because our position today is not bad, but it could be better. I think we have the capacity for this—the intellectual potential is here, the science and research which is done here is in many cases quite good, but there are places within the university where it could be better."
What are the university's biggest problems as you see them?
"I think it depends on who answers, but what I would say is probably the fact that we are quite segmented. The faculties are very individual and in some situations they have a hard time communicating, or doing things together. That's something I would like to focus on."
You're also quite unique in the fact that you've spent five years in the United States beginning in 1991, at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Could you tell us a little bit about your time there and what the most influential factors were of your five years in the Unites States?
"I was in Minneapolis as a young researcher, so my experience there professionally was very much about science, doing science at a pretty decent international level, I think. Also, it was for me about learning how to live in a normal situation because I left this country when it was just beginning to recover from communism. So many things which people learned here gradually, I learned very suddenly after I came to the Unites States. So that was a very interesting experience, of course."
"There are some practical things which need to be taken care of. There is a relatively big project involving funding for scientific work, so that's something I will definitely spend some time on. Then I need to focus on the information system for the university—it's something which has needed attention for several years, and it still is not easy to do because we have 17 faculties, 17 schools, each of which currently uses a different system, and we need to put it together so it works as one information system. This is related to another goal: I want the students to have an opportunity to pick-up subjects or classes from different faculties, and that's difficult to do without the information system."