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What drives Harm Derks? The new Head Institute Office on beauty, integrity and quality

Harm Derks started as Head of the Institute Office on 21 May. After a lengthy test drive in the world of classic cars, he is once again in his element back in the academic world. ‘I really want to get to know people, and also for colleagues to get to know me.’

Asked why he started his own classic car business, Harm laughs: ‘I grew up among cars. My father is a real car enthusiast. It was even my first word. I’ve always been involved with cars as a hobby, and what could be better than turning your hobby and passion into your work?

Creating added value

In the long run, the work turned out to be too one-dimensional for him and he wanted to get back into a university environment. ‘At the university, you make a difference in people's lives. I want to create added value to give something back to society, to make the world a more pleasant and better place. Another great thing is the freedom you enjoy in academia, to think and associate freely. Especially now in a time when there is so much tension within academia and among students, on such issues as integrity and global conflicts, it’s very important that you can have that dialogue and be yourself. I would be happy to be able to contribute to that.’

Mark Rothko

Harm worked for eight years at Radboud Universiteit and six years at the Vrije Universiteit van Amsterdam in the roles of Head of eResources & Licence Management, Manager of Library Services and Project Manager Student Engagement. He studied Law and then moved on to Art History and Archaeology. ‘That sparked my interest in aesthetics and beauty. Every human being needs beauty. That can be in yourself, or part of the environment, in words, in music, in art. Beauty itself and paying attention to it make life more pleasurable. A retrospective exhibition of Mark Rothko in Paris, a ride in a classic car or a nice book, that’s what makes me happy. So I strive to add beauty myself.’

Interdisciplinary approach

Harm's first challenge is to get to know people personally as quickly as possible, both the people in the Institute Office and the key stakeholders within the institute, faculty and university. ‘I would like to map the landscape within which I work... see how the pieces of the puzzle fit together so that together we achieve the ambitions set out in the strategy. I also strive to ensure that the institute has all the facilities it needs and that everything runs smoothly, so that researchers and lecturers can do their work without any hassle. My hope is that there will be more of a feeling of connection within the institute. I’ve been walking around here for a few days now and see that there are lots of islands based on a classical division into disciplines. Personally, I think an interdisciplinary approach can enrich our faculty and create a sense of unity and belonging.’

It's all about quality

From his previous positions, Harm brings with him a free, open-minded and unorthodox outlook. He has learned to stay true to himself and to keep asking questions. As head of the Institute Office, he drives innovation. ‘Innovation is about thinking in solutions and possibilities, outside existing conventions. In all that, I expect people to put in their best efforts. I think it’s important to have the feeling that you can and may undertake things, that mistakes can be made. But, to be able to do that, you have to feel safe. It's about quality, wanting to be the best in education and research. Of course, we don't always succeed, but the ambition must be there. And as the Institute Office, we help make that possible.’

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