“I have been in the academic world for 54 years now and I am still learning every day”
Frank van der Duijn Schouten has been interim Rector Magnificus of Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) since January 1, 2021. He is an experienced administrator and is known as a bridge builder. “It is quite nice to be the first in the Netherlands (as far as I know) to have been rector of three Dutch universities.”
You have been appointed interim Rector Magnificus. What attracted you to this new position?
‘The departure of Rutger Engels came as a surprise to everyone and the Supervisory Board obviously needs some time to find a successor. Because both current Executive Board members also took office quite recently, it is quite difficult to bridge that time together. When I am called upon in such a situation, it is not easy for me to say 'no', especially since I have gotten to know the EUR reasonably well over the past four years through my three deanships. And of course, it is also quite nice to be the first in the Netherlands (at least as far as I know) to have served three Dutch universities as Rector Magnificus.’
What dossiers will you be given in your portfolio?
‘The usual files of the Rector Magnificus: education and research; the core business of a university. This includes student wellbeing and work pressure among lecturers, especially now during this pandemic. But also, recognising and rewarding academic staff and diversity and inclusion in the university business are important files too, which are also close to my heart.’
All members of the board have just started. What’s your take on that?
‘As mentioned, it's quite difficult to pull it together in such a situation when you've both just taken office. In that respect I do bring some institutional memory with me, because I have been working quite intensively with the current deans for some time. For the rest, the EUR experience does not make that much of a difference. In many cases, a fresh look from the outside can be very beneficial. The most important thing is that you get along well as a team. And I can see that happen and, if my intuition doesn't deceive me, that also applies to my fellow Executive Board members.’
"The university is one of the most beautiful inventions of the past millennium and I sincerely hope that we will be able to safeguard that institution for many generations to come."
What challenges do you see lying ahead?
‘The nice thing about a university is that there is rarely a dull moment. In a general sense, as far as we can see now, dealing with and responding to the Corona crisis obviously still demands a lot of attention and energy from all of us in the coming months. Beyond that, we must continue to prepare for the mid-term review of the HOKA project that is due in early 2022 and the positioning of the EUR-Holding with its 18 LLC’s will require attention in the coming months. The nice thing about this last topic is that I have been involved in the preparation of this quite intensively over the past three months in my role as director of the Holding.’
What is your dream for this university and perhaps for the entire higher education system in the Netherlands?
‘I don't dream much. I also don't like 'dots on the horizon'. Too tight a focus on a certain goal or on the realisation of a dream can seriously hinder you in becoming aware of the possibilities that present themselves along the way. As long as you keep a good sense of direction, I have no difficulties with deviating from a set path from time to time.
When I was (just) 17 years old, I started at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam in 1967, full of wonder. I have been in the academic world for 54 years now and I am still learning every day. The university is one of the most beautiful inventions of the past millennium and I sincerely hope that we will be able to safeguard that institution for many generations to come.’