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New Executive Director Jan Pronk: ‘In the end it is all about people enjoying their work.’

In March, Jan Pronk starts as the new Executive Director at the Faculty of Archaeology. We sat down with him for an interview on his background, his drive, and his take on archaeology.

From teaching to HR

After studying Public Administration at Leiden University, Jan Pronk taught economics at a high school, and Public Administration and Economics at University. ‘I love education and collaboration, but did not feel drawn to the path of a researcher. I gained experience as a manager for a new Economics oriented programme, after which I made a switch, applying for a job as the institute manager at the Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society (LUCAS) at the Faculty of Humanities.’ It proved to be a complex but interesting task, for the institute was in financial disarray at the time. ‘We had to almost completely restructure the institute, but after four years it was once again a healthy and financially stable organisation. So it was time for a new challenge.’

Jan found his next challenge at the central university HR department, as a deputy director. ‘In my LUCAS days I noticed that some of the more tougher issues were related to HR, for example about leadership, functional hierarchy, and social safety. Moreover, I developed the ambition to become executive director one day.’ For this to work, he felt that he needed to develop his skills and knowledge on HR. ‘HR is at the heart of the University’s strategy. So for 1.5 years I had the time and opportunity to learn from the central HR team. Then the vacancy of executive director at Archaeology became available, with me feeling more ready than 2 years prior.’


Jan has ties with Leiden University that go back to 2003. ‘I have a big heart for education and for students. I appreciate their honesty, eagerness to develop and learn, saying it as it is without a political agenda. A classroom filled with talented people is the most inspiring environment. Personally, as I contribute to an organisation, I feel the responsibility to improve it. For that reason I applied for management positions.’ He made a gradual shift from education to more support and management oriented positions. ‘If the primary process works better it improves the results that we achieve with our core business in education and research. And that improves what we can bring to our students and society. This is my drive as a professional at Leiden University these days.’


Naturally, Jan’s first responsibility is towards the support staff and the facilitation of the primary processes. ‘My goal is to make that the support staff is involved. It is detrimental if we all work on our own islands.’ An added challenge that the coronavirus situation presented us with is the division between home and the office. ‘Working from home has its advantages and disadvantages. Together we need to find a path that works so that we can combine and preserve the positive elements of both.’

Another continuous challenge for a smaller faculty is maintaining a balanced budget. ‘Having a balanced budget is a requirement for the people in education and research to be able to do their work. You cannot renew contracts or travel abroad for research visits if the budget is not balanced.’ Changes in the research grant landscape may affect this budget, like many other developments. ‘it is a ratrace to acquire research funds in the Humanities-Archaeology-Social Science part of academia. We have to adjust to that.’ Jan looks forward to working with the Faculty’s support staff. ‘These people are our specialists. They know what is good for the organisation. I want to learn from them and I am looking forward to meeting them.’

Yet an additional aspect to focus on is the social safety situation at the Faculty. ‘I am aware that this is an issue. In my first months at the Faculty I will work closely with the HR colleagues and will meet as many people as possible to hear what they see as the way forward. I am grateful to the board and my predecessor for the actions they set in motion to address this.’ For Jan it is all starts with leadership. ‘We need to help people to develop their leadership skills. This will create an open and transparent environment. In the end it is all about people enjoying their work and being able to develop their talents.’

Jan Pronk working in the City Hall of The Hague

Anchored to the past

Jan’s own background is in social sciences. ‘It is not directly related to archaeology, but like everyone I visit archaeological sites when on holiday, like Pompeii and Paestum. I have already asked my new colleagues for good introductory books on Archaeology, and I hope to attend some lectures as well. I do have a big interest in history, and I am a fanatical reader of political biographies.’ He is also interested in the physical appearance of history in an archaeological sense. ‘What fascinates me is that what we are today is anchored to the choices we made in the past. Many of things we do are related to where we come from. Archaeology gives us this in-depth view of the past.’

For years Jan has been active in the city council of The Hague. ‘In my portfolio was housing and the development of public space. There is this constant fight for the allocation of public space, since it is such a scarce commodity. According to the Environmental Code (omgevingswet), when you have to decide what to do with a public zone, you go back to what was there before. Archaeologists can pay a big role in this.’

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