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Introduction: 6 questions for the new FSW confidential counsellor

Starting 1 April, 2017 Henk Tromp is the successor of Wasif Shadid as the FSW confidential counsellor. Time for a short interview.

You’re no stranger to the FSW – what positions have you held at the Faculty in the past?

That’s true – the FSW and I go back a long way. I started in 1981 as a coordinator and researcher at the Centre for Research into Societal Contradictions and then became Deputy Director of the Leiden Institute for Social Scientific Research. Both institutes were over 90% externally funded. Institutions such as government ministries, municipalities, and individual foundations commissioned us to carry out research into the position of migrants in Dutch society and the response to these migrants. Other research projects looked at serious human rights violations, labour relations in the teaching profession, urban issues. The Institute was closed down in 2000.

I moved to the Institute of Political Science as secretary of the Institute Board and a guest researcher because I was writing a doctoral thesis about the role of art experts in relation to Van Gogh forgeries. After that I worked at the Faculty Office, where I was responsible for teaching quality assurance and providing assistance for research funding applications.

And I was always involved in all sorts of other activities at the FSW, like being a member of the Faculty Council, chair of the Services committee, editor of the newsletter Tout Court, and that kind of thing.

So why confidential counsellor?

That’s easy: I was invited to do it. You can’t say no, really, given that it’s such an important, accessible institution for the FSW. The expectation seems to be that my 35 years of experience may be helpful to others. I have to confess it’s flattering. And it’s a great honour to take over from Wassif Shadid.

What’s important about the role, and what sort of things can people turn to you for?

The most important thing, as I see it, is to be a listening ear for any employee of the FSW who encounters problems at work, and to explore what he or she could do. Incidentally, the confidential counsellor is not the person who actually solves a problem in the workplace. It’s more about getting the issue into the open. With the employee, you can think through the consequences of his or her actions. Acting without thinking it all through may be damaging for someone or weaken their position. That’s what you want to avoid. But it’s also not good to allow a problem to fester – either for the person directly involved, or for the people around them. People can get carried away by their emotions. You can’t live without emotions, but they can sometimes drive you into an impasse. That’s where I come it to it – there’s a description on the confidential advisor’s web page of the kinds of problems people can discuss with me.

What are you planning to do differently from your predecessor?

I don’t know yet. To start off with, my main aim is to keep up the quality of Wassif’s work as confidential counsellor.

Why not rest on your laurels? What’s drawing you back to the FSW?

Resting is nice for a while, but I like to keep busy. Filling your days with reading, writing, and doing odd jobs is satisfying, but I miss the interaction with my friends and colleagues at the FSW.

What can people always drop in to talk about, or what do you like talking about, even if there are no problems or work-related issues to discuss?

At the Faculty Office, we used to start the day with coffee and talk about all manner of things. About the TV programmes we’d seen the day before, friends and relations, children, books, films, music… you never knew what might come up. Afterwards I often wondered at the route the conversation had taken, the unexpected twists and turns along the way. How did one thing lead to another, and why? If there’s such a thing as the psychology or sociology of digression, please let me know, as I’d like to read more about it.

confiSo if anyone wants to drop in for a little digression, you’ll be more than welcome.

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