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Paul Wouters reappointed as Dean of FSW

Paul Wouters has been reappointed as Dean of the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences. His second term runs from 1 January 2022 to 31 December 2023.

Congratulations on the reappointment! What do you think of it?

I’m pleased with it, because I get to work with pleasurable people: the other members of the Faculty Board, for example. Over the last three years we realised a number of good things in the faculty, and it is great that I can spend two more years on seeing those changes through and securing them.

What did you achieve during the last three years?

In universities there is always a certain distance between those who carry out research and education and the Faculty Board. That can make it unclear what the board members actually do, and what it means to have a board. From the start we, as Faculty Board, wanted to work more openly and transparently to actively counteract that distance. I think we managed to do that.

Being Dean is also about taking away barriers in the organisation. The university is compartmentalized: it is hard to look past the organisational boundaries between, for example, institutes if you want to meet and work with others. My dream is a university where every day people can feel that they are part of a greater community of knowledge – not only academics, but also the people behind the IT facilities or those who keep our buildings open. And the question here is: how can we make that community function more easily and more warmly?

It is like renovating a ship on the open sea, and you do not want to sink.

One of my imposed duties as the new Dean two and a half years ago was to formulate a vision for the faculty together with the Faculty Board: what is the reason behind the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, and why does it consist of these five institutes? We set up thirteen teams to brainstorm about ideas where we want to go as a faculty. And that process is not finished yet. It takes much more time than you would imagine, because this place cannot just shut down. It is like renovating a ship on the open sea, and you do not want to sink.

What will be your priorities for the next two years?

Firstly: stimulating interdisciplinarity, by enabling people from different institutes to meet each other and work together.

The second issue is decreasing work pressure. The university is an overloaded organisation in many ways: too little money, more students than we can handle, too little time for research. On the one hand more money is needed for higher education, but we can already make improvements ourselves. For example: getting rid of unnecessary administrative procedures. And that is difficult for an organisation, because it means letting go of (some) control. But it is important: it mean that we have to place more trust in the professionalism of our employees.

Thirdly, the university-wide topic of diversity and inclusion. Our society has changed greatly over the last decade: the Netherlands have a different character now. That also means that our academic community is changing. The trick is to remove any type of exclusion that might exist in a monoculture.

Furthermore qualitative infrastructure for research and education is essential. Not only laboratories, but also IT-facilities to develop big data structures and visual methodology. We will take big steps in that respect.

Lastly, we want to reform the career policy: for decades, the focus has been on publications and money raised when assessing work performance. We want to broaden that, so that researchers are able to conduct pioneering, risky research. Even when it does not produce publications immediately. That is called ‘Recognition and Reward’. At the same time a lot of education is conducted here too: the project Development and Management of Teaching, led by Kristiaan van der Heijden, is intended to systematically improve the support for our lecturers.

What was your experience being Acting Dean of the Faculty of Science too?

I liked it! But I did receive twice as much email, it really is much more demanding than one deanship. My fellow board members of both faculties have stepped in, so there are several matters that I am not involved in at all. But all goes well, so I am not needed everywhere anymore. A dean does not have to stick his nose in the details of every matter, of course.

Nevertheless, I am very glad that the Faculty of Science has found a new Dean who will start on 1 January 2022, because being Dean of one faculty is a full-time job already. There is good reason that every faculty has its own Dean: it was at the expense of my free time and my own research. I only sporadically read professional literature now. But I did not cut down on supervising PhD students, I kept on doing that.

Which book did you read recently and do you recommend?

It is a rather large tome – I love big books.

During my summer vacation, I read a very well-written biography about Paul Ehrenfest and Tatiana Afanassjewa, two physicists in the early 20th century. It is called Denken is verrukkelijk and it is a rather large tome – I love big books.

I am also currently reading the second book of the science fiction trilogy The Three-Body Problem, written by Chinese sci-fi author Liu Cixin. It is about the dilemma that emerges when contact has been made between Earth and an alien civilisation, and the crisis that follows in human society.

And finally, I try to read poems every night – I did not manage to do so the last few weeks. I thought to myself: I am going to buy myself a big collection of poems, because then I will feel obligated to read it. The collection is Zo heb ik u lief by Alfred Schaffer. He writes fascinating and sometimes ominous poems. And sometimes, after reading one poem four times, I think: ah yes, this is what is in there.

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