This faculty is the perfect fit for me!
From 1 September Erwin Muller will be the new Dean of the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs (FGGA) in The Hague. What makes him the right person for the job? And what can the Faculty expect in the next few years? ‘Quality and content are crucial. Some growth figures are worryingly high.’
‘I am extraordinarily cheerful by nature,’ says Muller halfway through our interview on the third floor of the Wijnhaven building. And that is apparent: the new Dean takes all the time in the world to answer questions, and puts on his biggest smile for the photographer. But as you would expect from a real academic, he is also a bit averse to outward show. ‘I take it you’ll have enough material soon?’ he says subtly to the photographer as the photo shoot begins to take too long for his liking.
What will FGGA staff notice of that cheerful nature?
‘I want to run the Faculty in a cheerful way. That means that I mainly see opportunities rather than limitations and have faith in the staff’s own strengths and sense of responsibility. Ideally, I’d like to keep track of the main themes in the Faculty, but wherever possible leave the details to the staff who have the most expertise in a certain area. Making mistakes will also be part of this. If things look to be going seriously wrong at any point, I will intervene.’
What else will make you a good Dean of FGGA?
‘I have been Professor of Safety, Security and Law at Leiden University since 2001. But I always wanted to be more than a researcher alone. I also wanted to put that knowledge into practice. That is why I have always combined my role as professor with administrative roles. That meant I could put my subject knowledge into practice. I think this combination of subject knowledge and administrative skills will be valuable in my work as Dean of FGGA.’
Until recently, Muller (1965) was deputy chair of the Dutch Safety Board, an independent administrative body that looks at how to improve safety in the Netherlands. Before that he worked in roles such as director of the Police Academy, the Netherlands School of Public Administration and the COT Institute for Security and Crisis Management. At Leiden University he was previously Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Law.
Security issues are an important theme at FGGA too, for instance in Security Studies and Public Administration.
‘Exactly. The themes at FGGA are an exact match for my interests and knowledge. How do security organisations such as the security services, fire brigades and the national police function? And what are the powers and framework within which they must operate? These are issues that I have been tackling for decades already. That is why this faculty is the perfect for me, and me for the Faculty I would hope.’
Your chair is also moving from Leiden to The Hague on 1 September. Do you see mainly similarities between the two cities or differences?
‘The Dutch Safety Board is also in The Hague, so I know the city well by now. I don’t think there are that many differences between the branches of the University in Leiden and The Hague.’ After some further questioning he adds: ‘Perhaps the Hague branch is that bit more entrepreneurial. You can’t say we’ve already been in the city since 1575. If you build something from the ground up, that naturally creates more room for innovation. You really are doing pioneer work. At the same time routines are sometimes lacking. I see it as my job to introduce these routines without throwing the entrepreneurial out the window.’
What do you consider to be the biggest challenge that FGGA will face in the coming period?
‘We want to be available in the best way to provide answers to issues that are typical for The Hague. This could mean urban problems such as liveability and integration but also all the questions that spring up at the embassies and international tribunals in The Hague. The teaching and research could connect much better with this. A further challenge is the speed at which we are growing. The growth in student numbers is worryingly high in some programmes. I would prefer to see steady, even growth to ensure there continues to be enough room for quality of teaching, research and valorisation. Quality and content are crucial.’
One last question: there are obviously more faculties in The Hague than just FGGA. You will be given the explicit task to seek connections with them. What form will this take?
‘It is not yet clear what the overarching administration will look like in The Hague. I definitely want to get together with the Executive Board and the other deans to figure out what people need and which administrative structure will best meet these needs.’
Muller recently moved to an old farm in Nieuwerbrug aan den Rijn, a small village in the municipality of Bodegraven-Reeuwijk. He lives with his partner, and has three children aged 21, 18 and 4.