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Two new deans: Harald Merckelbach for Psychology, Annemie Schols for FHML

Two new deans: Harald Merckelbach for Psychology, Annemie Schols for FHML

Photographer:Fotograaf: Observant, Maastricht UMC+

MAASTRICHT. Harald Merckelbach, Professor of Forensic Psychology, is to become dean of the Faculty of Psychology and Neurosciences again as of 1 May. He will succeed Professor Anita Jansen, who was awarded a major Gravitation subsidy  (20 million) and is now returning to research. Annemie Schols, director and researcher at Nutrim, will succeed Professor Albert Scherpbier at the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences as of 1 June. The latter is going to retire.

Both are internal candidates, which is interesting in the light of the recent discussion in the University Council. Where the rector wanted to leave a lot of room for external recruitment, the University Council managed to turn this back so that the preference leaned towards a professor from within the faculty. The faculty of Arts & Social Sciences is still looking for a successor for Professor Sophie Vanhoonacker, whose term will expire September 2020.

Harald Merckelbach knows what the position entails because he was the dean before (2005-2008). “I am devoted to this faculty,” he explains. “I have just finished my latest book. I could of course write more articles or another book, but I like the idea of being a manager again.”

There is work to be done, some say. “The thing that worries me is the political discussion about Dutch being the official academic language. Psychology is often used as an example: graduates have to be able to speak proper Dutch so that they can communicate with patients. That is a primitive idea, as if all Psychology students become psychotherapists. We need to correct that image. Our labour and organisation psychologists will find jobs in international businesses. Our MRI specialists work in an international context. I feel that both Dutch and English should be represented.”

Another worrying point is the reputation of science, but especially that of psychology. “We have sustained a lot of damage recently. I feel that open science and transparency is very important. This cannot be without obligation.” And then there is the culture at the universities: “The university has increasingly become an organisation in which burnout-like complaints are common. Employees feels rushed, they have to bring in subsidies and publish their quota of articles. The same applies to students, they also feel rushed. We need to see if we can change things around. The university needs to become an institute again where calm reigns, with time for reflection. I think the new VSNU report Erkennen en waarderen (Acknowledging and Valuing) is very good. It shows that science is more than ticking off the number of articles.”

The present dean, Anita Jansen, is leaving just before her first term of four years will have been completed (June 2020). Will he do one or two terms, so four or eight years? “Oh, I don’t know, I haven’t thought about that. We will see. As long as everyone feels that they are not too troubled by him and he is doing a good job, I will continue.”

First female dean

With Annemie Schols, the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences will have a female dean for the first time. “I was at the point in my career where I could look back with pride on what I have achieved with my research team and with Nutrim,” writes Schols in an initial e-mail reply. “I have great confidence in their further development without my direct guidance. I was beginning to feel an itch to accept a new challenge.” 

Schols very much wanted a managerial academic job. “I feel great loyalty towards the UM, where I have been able to successfully continue developing myself with great pleasure from the moment I was accepted as a PhD candidate. I want others to have the same.” It was to be dean of FHML.

Schols is first going to rediscover the organisation. “Listening to suggestions and identifying any bottlenecks.” She sees opportunities for further expansion of the faculty. “By promoting and facilitating the connection between research schools and institutes, by strengthening the integration of research and education, and by paying more attention to their impact, for example by the cooperation between MUMC+ and Brightlands.” 

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