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Change manager Frans de Haas is working on the future of the MI

Frans de Haas started his work at the MI with a clear mandate. Listening and talking are what he will mainly be doing ‘My role is to make sure that everyone feels comfortable in the new situation.’

What is your link with maths?

I’ve written extensively about the link between maths and my field of ancient and medieval philosophy. My research includes the history of maths in relation to philosophy. In earlier times, there was regular interaction between the two fields. At that time, maths was much more advanced than philosophy, and philosophers took a cue from the establishment of maths as a discipline. 

Have you always worked in Leiden?

I studied in Leiden and obtained my PhD here. After that I worked for eight years in London, Utrecht and Nijmegen, and returned to Leiden as a professor in 2003. 

Could you tell us something about your private life?

I live in Amersfoort; my wife works at the hospital there. We have two sons who are at university so neither of them lives at home. In my free time I play the organ, and I’m quite fanatical about it. When I was a student I played regularly on the organ in the Marekerk. I’ve just bought a new electronic organ for at home that you can set so that you imagine yourself in all kinds of churches.

You are described as a ‘warm change manager’. Is that how you see yourself?

Laughing: it’s strange to read something like that about yourself in official documents. I do hear from other people that they feel they are listened to and that I am a peace maker. I think that’s right. I’m a good listener and I am able to empathise with other people. 

Are you a good manager?

I’ve got a lot of experience. First as scientific director at the Institute of Philosophy and right now I’m also director of the Dutch Research School of Philosophy. And in 2017 I had a role at the Leiden Institute of Areas Studies that was similar to my current role at the MI. 

Can you give a practical example?

Over the course of the years at Philosophy I introduced Comparative Philosophy. That means that we study not only Western philosophy, but also Indian, Chinese and African philosophy. It took some effort, and not everyone was enthusiastic right away. But now it’s paying off; the student numbers have grown and people tell me they are happy about it. 

I don’t have any grand plans for the MI. I’m taking a modest approach; mathematicians don’t need to worry that I’m going to interfere in the substance of the Institute. There’s no need for that. The Institute is performing well, it has successful programmes, a lot of students and some excellent partnerships. I’m very impressed with what I see here.  

What are you going to do then?

I have been given a clear mandate by the Faculty Board and the MI. That includes a number of things that have to happen, which stem from the broadly supported advice contained in the report by the former interim scientific director, Frank van der Duijn Schouten. 

First of all, it’s important that we strengthen the structure and management of the Institute. To do that, a clear and transparent personnel policy is needed. The proposed organisation structure has three sections with three section heads. And they will be very transparent in how they deal with the Performance and Development interviews and promotions within tenure track programmes. 

The sense of social safety is another important issue. The Diversity Officer will be working on this together with an external agency. And there is also a research assessment coming up, which is an ideal opportunity to reflect on the position of the MI. What is it that we stand for?

There are quite a lot of people from outside who are working with the institute, including myself. As scientific director, an important task for me is to coordinate and filter the activities. The proposed changes have to be feasible for people and they have to feel comfortable with them. That also helps to create a peaceful atmosphere on the work floor.

How are you going to approach this in practice?

Well, for the first point a lot of things are already clear. There is a Management Team with four members: a portfolio holder for research, a programme director, an institute manager and a scientific director. And then there are the three section heads. In the coming period, everyone needs to know what their role is and what the benefits are. We’ll have to kind of practise things. 

In terms of social safety, I’m first going to mainly talk and listen. What do staff and students think is important? And in the meantime, we’ll get on with the normal work and I want to start creating that sense of peace. During the summer holidays, people have been busy bandying around all kinds of opinions. That’s something I don't intend to get involved in. We’re going to look to the future.

Will you be holding the discussions via a screen?

I think that on-screen working was part of the problem. Corona didn’t help and things have to change. That’s why I’m going to be in the Institute four half-days every week. I’ll be in my office there and everyone is welcome to drop by and see me. 

Why did you accept this job?

Obviously, I have a busy diary, so I did have to think hard about it. But once I had more information, I found it gave me a lot of energy. The MI is a fantastic institute. A lot of good steps have already been taken and I can really make a difference for the future of the Institute. I’m looking forward to shaping that future together with the people at the MI and the Faculty Board. 

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