Van der Duijn Schouten was appointed as ESHCC’s interim dean in late June. He handles this role next to his position as interim dean at Erasmus School of Economics. He was asked by the Executive Board to study the future of ESHCC.

The merger plans – which had been resolutely rejected before the start of the summer – have now been dusted off and are back on the table. Personally, Van der Duijn Schouten has the most faith in the formation of a strong Humanities faculty that exists side by side with Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB). “This substantial reinforcement of the Humanities and Social Sciences at EUR could come about by allying ESHCC’s various departments with Erasmus School of Philosophy or ESSB.”


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The troubled year of the ESHCC

It is - and this has been said carefully - a difficult year for the ESHCC faculty. First…

The dean doesn’t want to go into which institutions the individual departments can connect with. Although this should be given very careful thought, he emphasises. “You want to avoid mixing disparate academic cultures that together could form an unhealthy biotope. This may lead to a lot of internal discussions – something that needs to be avoided in any organisational structure.” A committee will be taking a closer look at the options presented for the faculty’s future. The results of this review are expected in December.

‘Insufficient leadership capacity’

Van der Duijn Schouten draws a number of tough conclusions in the report – particularly when it comes to the faculty’s administration. “One finds insufficient leadership capacity within ESHCC,” is how he puts it in his advice.

According to the dean, a merger will allow EUR to take a step forward that could benefit the university as a whole. “The combination of a strong Humanities faculty and a strong Social Sciences faculty will improve the university’s positioning, which can attract more students and talented staff. To take the step of this merger, we need strong leadership at the faculty level,” says Van der Duijn Schouten. And this, according to the dean, is precisely what’s lacking at the moment.

In the dean’s view, a small group of people within ESHCC have too much power. One of the mechanisms that drive democracy is differences of opinion, and there’s not enough room for this right now. And due to the existing HRM policy at ESHCC, ‘there is insufficient leadership potential’ within the faculty to find the right successors to the present leaders. The composition of ESHCC’s team is out of balance: a relatively large number of colleagues are nearing retirement, combined with a relatively large group of young, inexperienced staff members.

Moreover, the current management team lacks the faculty-wide vision required to work together with other deans and the Executive Board on a better future for the faculty, says Van der Duijn Schouten. “In the most recent period, you could see that the management team mainly viewed the Executive Board, and consequently the rest of the university, as a threat. Fear is a very bad counsellor.” The dean is referring to the predominantly negative attitude within ESHCC towards a merger – even though in his eyes, a merger is the best option the faculty has.

Positive balance thanks to ‘exceptional increase’

Surprisingly enough, ESHCC’s finances are no longer the faculty’s biggest problem – even though six months ago, the previous interim dean Dymph van den Boom named its precarious financial position as the most important reason why a merger was required. “As interim dean I took a look at the budget for 2020-2023”, explains Van der Duijn Schouten. “I have few more figures to work from than my predecessor, and have concluded that in four years’ time, the faculty will be able to stand on its own two feet, financially speaking. A positive reserve is no longer a case of wishful thinking – which has everything to do with the exceptional increase in student numbers that the faculty has seen these past few years.”

At present, the faculty’s reserves are still in the red, but this will change over the next four years. “The reserves are increasing to a healthy level of some 1.5 million euros.”

Extension of the Executive Board

In the first two months of his term as interim dean, Van der Duijn Schouten says he has done his best to get to know the staff of his new faculty. “As a dean, you need to invest time and effort to earn people’s trust. When Van den Boom was appointed, she was immediately marked as an extension of the Executive Board. That’s a terrible start. As a Dean, you should get the opportunity to convince the faculty that you are also prepared to go against the Executive Board if need be.”

For Van der Duijn Schouten, this situation reminds him of his time at Philosophy, where he also served as interim dean during a period when the faculty was looking at an uncertain future. “You can almost hear the Faculty Council and the entire staff thinking: What’s this Van der Duijn Schouten fellow doing here as a mathematician? He must be one the Executive Board’s people. Similar to what I said to the philosophers, I told the ESHCC staff that the independence of the faculty is not an end in itself. My primary objective is to protect the continuity of the substantive fields, degree programmes and research programmes. This is followed by the staff’s interests. And as far as I’m concerned, the preservation of the faculty as an institutional entity comes last. In this sense, I believe that by presenting a fairly tight and consistent argument, I have managed to earn some trust.”

Frank van der Duijn Schouten
Frank van der Duijn Schouten Image credit: Aysha Gasanova

By now, the three months allotted to Van der Duijn Schouten at ESHCC have officially expired. He’s prepared to tack on some more time, because ‘there’s still a lot to be done’. The 70-year-old interim dean isn’t too bothered about reports of a ‘culture of fear’ within ESHCC. In his view, people should be able to speak their minds in an academic organisation. What’s more, as a mathematician, he says he has a soft spot for fields like philosophy and history. “It’s harder for me to claim an affinity with Culture and Arts, because back in secondary school the only fail mark on my report card was for Drawing.” But he sees them all as ‘vulnerable fields’ that deserve to be defended. “Occasionally against the very people who are actually responsible for them. If I can play a part in this defence, I am available for the job. On the condition that the Faculty Council endorses my appointment, though.”

A week after this interview, it was announced that Van der Duijn Schouten will remain an interim dean at the ESHCC for another year.