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Jeroen Touwen new Vice-Dean of Humanities

Jeroen Touwen has been appointed Vice-Dean and portfolio holder for bachelor’s programmes at the Faculty of Humanities with effect from 1 January 2020. Over the coming three years he will contribute to faculty policy and will steer the BA programmes from his position in the Faculty Board.

Foto: © FGW

Jeroen Touwen was previously programme director of the BA and MA programme in History. He is looking forward to building further on the experience he gained in this role. Touwen is very positive about the current state of our faculty: ‘We offer many different programmes, with an enormous breadth of themes. It’s this breadth that makes us stand out. Our faculty has a complex matrix structure, but it works well. At the moment we are doing very well: almost all our programmes have been audited in the past year and all have been assessed positively. It’s a privilege to be able to start in such a healthy situation.’ 

Working together and setting priorities

An important theme for the near future is the Van Rijn report (that proposes transferring a greater proportion of university funding to technical universities). If we have to economise, it will put the Humanities in a vulnerable position. Touwen: ‘We have a lot of small programmes, which is a more costly structure. One of the key areas we need to focus on is communication on priorities at management level. You have to be able to show colleagues why changes are necessary, and that’s not always easy to do. The board also has to be clear about what it wants. And we welcome inputs from all parts of the organisation. That’s something that I will definitely be working on.’

Challenges for the future

Partly because of the Van Rijn report, we have to really showcase how important the humanities are to society, Touwen believes. ‘At the moment the humanities are often overlooked in political circles and in the public debate, while humanities scholars are in a position to formulate answers to all kinds of important questions in society. That includes such areas as the increasing cultural and ethnic diversity, for example, issues relating to sustainability and climate, and embedding technological changes such as artificial intelligence and robotisation.’  

Collaboration between disciplines is essential to be able to formulate these responses: ‘Many researchers from the science fields also understand the importance of interdisciplinary partnerships. You can’t expect engineers alone to resolve societal problems: these are areas where researchers from the humanities and social sciences can make an important contribution. And then it also follows that good education in these subjects is crucial,’ says Touwen. ‘The fact that politicians don’t seem to realise this shows just how rigid their thinking is.’

‘Everyone here is enormously enthusiastic’

Touwen is inspired by how enthusiastic colleagues are about education. ‘Most of our staff are enormously enthusiastic about their work. It may be the case that highly successful science researchers tend to get all the attention, but our staff are at least as enthusiastic about teaching. Not only that, most of our income comes from education.’

Division of time

Besides his position as Vice-Dean, Touwen also has a small teaching appointment and will continue lecture on social and economic history in the first-year History programme. He also has continuing research obligations that – in his own words – ‘keep him on the ball.’  He is working on a book in which he compares the present energy transition, driven by climate change, with earlier industrial revolutions. Touwen: ‘What’s exciting about this is that the discomfort caused by disruption is so recognisable. Many people think we have to make this into a policy (and in terms of priority highly debated) project. However, you can also regard it is an actor-instigated and technology-driven process. A lot depends on how we as a society think about these disruptive effects. Ignoring the urgency of the problem is not constructive way to handle it.’ 

Praeses of Augustinus

When he was a student, Touwen was praeses of the Augustinus student association. We asked him whether this role influenced his career. He is somewhat surprised by this question. ‘It certainly did,’ he says. ‘As an example: in a student association, you learn how to have efficient meetings. You also learn that managing means taking collective decisions, where you can’t always predict the outcome. I would say that the committee of a student association is a taste of what you’re going to come across in your future career, whether that’s at a university, in government or in the business sector.’

About Jeroen Touwen
Jeroen Touwen studied History at Leiden University and obtained his PhD on the commercial and economic development of the Dutch East Indies in the late colonial period. In 2014 he published a book on the Dutch Consultation Economy in the post-war period, entitled Coordination in Transition. The Netherlands and the World Economy, 1950-2010.

He has held the following management posts: from 2010 to 2016 he was scientific director of the inter-university research school, the N.W. Posthumus Institute. He was also a member of the faculty teaching committee. Since 2017 he has been chair of the BA and MA in History. He is also programme coordinator of the minor in International and Intercultural Management. 

Touwen has for many years been a lecturer on the history of the global economy at our faculty, where his specific focus is on the Netherlands and colonial Indonesia.

Lieselotte van de Ven
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