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Sophie Vanhoonacker: kind, modest, but she marks her boundaries

Sophie Vanhoonacker: kind, modest, but she marks her boundaries

Photographer:Fotograaf: UM

Third female dean at UM

MAASTRICHT. She will be the first female dean at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASoS): professor Sophie Vanhoonacker accepted when the Executive Board asked her for the position.

The Flemish Vanhoonacker (52) grew up in Bruges and is originally a historian (Leuven), but moved more and more in the direction of international relations, specifically European relations. She did a PhD in Leiden on European foreign policies after the Cold War. Before she started working for Maastricht University in 2001, she worked for the European Institute of Public Administration (EIPA) for fourteen years (until 2001), which is also based in Maastricht. From 2001, she was involved in setting up European Studies, the new branch of the faculty, which subsequently experienced a tremendous growth which threatened to surpass the existing ‘arts’ branch. She gained management experience in various positions in the faculty, the most important one being her chairing the department of Politics with its 45 employees.

An interesting point in connection with her new position is the description of her chair of Administrative Governance, which examines the role and influence of bureaucratic actors “in multi-layered, polycentric systems of decision-making”.

It seems like an appropriate description of a faculty, certainly one like FASoS, with all its complexities. Vanhoonacker says that she is good at “listening, I make contact easily and I can build bridges. I consider the fact that we have two directions, Arts and European, as the faculty’s unique strengths. There are mutual links, but I would like to strengthen them. I feel that we need to invest more in the Arts side.”

Vanhoonacker is taking over the reins from professor Rein de Wilde, who will soon have been dean for ten years, at a time when the faculty is taxing itself to the utmost in meeting the demands of accreditation organisation NVAO. This organisation recently marked seven of the eight FASoS programmes, both bachelor’s and master’s, as insufficient by issuing the so-called ‘yellow cards’. Should the faculty remain deficient, programme funding will be at risk.

Vanhoonacker: “It is now down to implementation of the recovery plans, but we will manage, we are working conscientiously. And when I start on 1 January, everything will be behind us, I hope that there will then be a tremendously relaxed atmosphere.”

In the second half of this year, she will take her place on the faculty board so as to gain experience for her new role. During that period, the discussion about a new strategic plan for the faculty will also need to be concluded. Vanhoonacker does not want to anticipate, not even where it concerns the inevitable difference in approach with De Wilde’s style of management. “I am a different person, I will do things differently, but I will also carry on many of the things we are doing now, I often agree with Rein.”

She has a reputation of being kind and modest, maybe even ‘too much so’? “I don’t think so, I also mark my boundaries when I feel it is necessary. I am not someone who constantly shouts, that is true, but when it does happen then I know for sure that people will take me serious.”

Vanhoonacker thought long and hard about whether she should become dean. “The same question arose two and a half years ago, when Rein was coming to the end of his second term and nobody wanted to take over. I didn’t want to either, because I was involved in too many research projects. Now I have the time to finish off things, although I would like to keep doing some research. The point is: I was able to make real headway here because of people like Rein, who allowed me to work in peace. I feel that it is now time for my generation to take administrative responsibility. But I would like to return to research, so I will do it for four years.”





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