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Professor Sandra Groeneveld talks about her inaugural lecture

Professor Sandra Groeneveld’s inaugural lecture is getting closer. On May 27 she will deliver her lecture called: “The relevance of bureaucracy. How to deal with ambivalence in public management”. Ahead of this inaugural lecture, professor Groeneveld gave us an interview last week. In this interview she gives us a sneak preview, explains the importance of bureaucracy, tells us if professors and bureaucracy match and looks ahead at what will follow after her inaugural lecture.

The title of your inaugural lecture is “The relevance of bureaucracy. How to deal with ambivalence in public management”. Can you give us a sneak preview?

In the title you see the word bureaucracy. That is of course meant to tease a bit, because we do not like that. I will explain that it is of interest to us, mainly in the layout of our government. Because we want our government to be controllable and predictable, and consistent in the way they deal with citizens. But from an organizational point of view bureaucracy is not always practical. Especially not in a setting that changes, or when citizens want custom-made services. Then bureaucracy is not always effective or efficient.

That is the ambivalence in public management and that is the reason why this is much more fun to investigate than management in general. On the one hand, there is this special position of government organizations, because of these values of controllability, predictability and consistence. On the other hand this means that an organization does not always function properly with regard to the other goals that the organization should reach as well. A public manager should be able to deal with this ambivalence. That is the main theme of my inaugural lecture.

Besides I will deal with the question of how to solve this problem. For instance, I ask whether bureaucracy should always be in the form of written rules.


Can you give us an example where that importance of bureaucracy is made clear?

Well, for instance, recently there has been much talk about the school advices. Given a certain test result, children from a lower social class would get a lower advice than children from a higher class. This was attributed to the fact that teachers have much freedom to give the advice. Then you see an immediate reaction: “we don’t want that, because now children are treated unequally”. The Minister says: “we must change the law” and schools say they have to regulate better. In my inaugural lecture I want to make it clear that regulations are not always the right solution. Instead, we should use the expertise of teachers, and encourage and support them to act in mutual consultation and in the general interest, and thus to be consistent in treating individual citizens.


This subject is in line with the fact that, instead of a present, you ask for a contribution to the Stichting Leergeld.

Well, that is a coincidence! But it certainly is an important issue. I think that everyone should have the chance to develop himself, and the importance of this starts early in life.


In an inaugural lecture people usually look at the future; which subjects within public management would you like to investigate?

I will certainly say so on May 27! But for now I can reveal that it will relate to this ambivalence: the relevance of bureaucracy on the one hand and on the other hand being able to be flexible as a modern organization, delivering custom-made services and giving professionals some space. What I would like to investigate most is: how can we still guarantee these values of bureaucracy in the new way of organizing, and which kind of leadership this involves.


Professors and bureaucracy: is that a good combination?

I will go into that during my inaugural lecture. But no, in general professors hate bureaucracy. Still, as scientists we work in a public organization where controllability and equal treatment are important. We must answer for the use of public money and guarantee our quality. At the same time, the work is complicated and we are closely connected to colleagues, at other universities as well, factors that contribute to the fact that bureaucracy does not suit our work. Particularly in universities you can see this tension I am talking about.


What will you do after your inaugural speech and what are you looking forward to?

The inaugural lecture feels like a substantive step within Public Administration and Leiden. It is very nice to be able to take some time to consider, with the help of co-reading colleagues, where I landed and what I am going to do next. I will of course do what I say in my inaugural lecture: develop the organization sociological approach of public management together with all colleagues in my chair. Besides I would like to further profile public management and leadership in education.

Of course I will also focus on my job as Scientific Director. On the one hand allowing all colleagues to realize and develop their personal potential. On the other hand making clear what we have to offer within the university, the academic community and in practice.

And of course, I am very much looking forward to the inaugural lecture of Kutsal Yesilkagit in August!

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