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Acting Dean Paul Wouters in eight questions

Paul Wouters is not keen on people with a dual agenda. However, for the coming period, he himself will be in that very position. Besides his work as Dean of the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FSW), he is temporarily coming to strengthen the Board of the Faculty of Science. Who is this Acting Dean, and what can we at Science expect from him?

Why did you accept this temporary position?

The Executive Board wanted to have a dean from Leiden and they also wanted that person to have an affinity with Leiden and with the sciences. That’s how I came into the picture. 

I really enjoy my work and am happy to lend a helping hand here. As long as the University thinks I can add value, I will carry on doing that. I like working with people from different generations; it gives me energy. 

What affinity do you have with the exact sciences?

When I was at school, that’s what I was mainly interested in, even though I also loved history and languages. I eventually chose to study chemistry. 

I  started my studies in 1968, in the heyday of student protests. That gave me a real feeling of social engagement. I played an active role in the student movement and along the way became interested in the role that science plays in society. 

When I had the opportunity to do a PhD, I grabbed it with both hands. My PhD was in the field of Science and Technology studies, where my specific research subject was scientometrics: the history of the citation index. It’s a subject that many science researchers have to deal with. 

You are also Dean of FSW. Can you really do both?

Because this is a temporary position, yes, I can. I’m going to be extremely efficient in how I structure my work at FSW. I’ll be available to work for the Science Faculty on Wednesdays and in the second half of Monday afternoons. I’m also going to be working an extra hour every day, including at the weekend. It’s just something that has to be done right now.  

And, obviously, I won’t be taking on all the tasks that a dean normally does. I’ll be concentrating on the current, day-to-day business. I’ll also be organising support groups and working closely with Dirkje, Bart and Joost, the other members of the Faculty Board. I don’t need to attend all the meetings, and all those matters that need more specific knowledge won’t come my way either. Those are issues that one of the Scientific Directors can handle. 

What does your family think?

My husband wasn’t exactly enthusiastic. But, OK, we don’t have young children at home any more, so this is something we can manage temporarily. I make sure I take good care of my health, and I find it easy to relax. That’s how I manage to keep going.

What do you do to relax?

My husband is a professional chef, and he is already retired. We eat together every evening, and spend around two hours over dinner. We talk about everything that moves us. After dinner we relax by watching a thriller or an interesting film, or we read. I also do a lot of walking.  

‘If someone has a problem, they’re welcome to come and see me’ 

What kinds of things can students and staff come to you with?

Don’t expect any major decisions from me; I’m here for the daily business. But, if someone has a problem, they’re welcome to come and see me. I want students, teachers, researchers and other staff to feel happy in their work and their studies. So, if a teacher is unhappy about something and can’t sort it out with his manager, the next step is to discuss it at the next level up. I am happy to be there for these kinds of issues.  

The different institutes are very independent, but we are also a Faculty as a whole. The Faculty Board and the institutes run the Faculty together; that’s how I see it. Cooperation is my motto, and that’s how I approach things. That’s what we’ll be doing in the coming months. 

You are an avid reader. What book would you say everyone should have read?

Read poetry even if you’re not that keen on it. There is a beautiful collection by Gerrit Komrij, where he gives a brief explanation of each poem. I really can recommend it. A Dutch book I’m currently reading is Kwaadschiks, from De tandeloze tijd series by A.F.Th. van der Heijden. I also really appreciate Margaret Atwood as a writer. She tends to set her works in dystopias, which she uses to write so well about gender relations. Oh sorry, was I supposed to mention one?

And what don’t you like?

I’m not keen on people who aren’t open, or who have a dual agenda. I also dislike people who don’t dare to express criticism of their dean. If there is criticism, I always want to do something about it. So, I temporarily have two roles, but that’s even more reason not to have a dual agenda!

Picture: Edwin Weers - Text: Christi Waanders - Translation: Marilyn Hedges

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