You have a lot of board experience in healthcare. How are you using that experience now?
“This is my third board position. The previous two were indeed at hospitals. The main similarity is that I still deal with highly educated professionals who know a lot about their fields and who want to be at the top. It is best to avoid giving them too much direction, but provide good support systems instead. So my portfolio now, as in the past, includes: finance, IT, HR, infrastructure and accommodation. These help people do their work and I bring experience to the table.”
How did your induction go in Covid times?
“I started on 1 August. At the time, for three months at least, we could do a lot in person. This was of course best by far as I enjoy being in contact with people. I always try to make connections and it helps if we can see each other. But if this is not an option, I use Teams. Students have to do things online too and the reality is that we will have to work hybrid: partly on campus and partly on Teams.
I try to catch up on areas such as research, educational matters and student affairs as quickly as I can. I had an intensive familiarisation programme in the first few weeks, and now I still go on a work visit every month on a Wednesday morning. I started with the faculties and I shadow services such as ESA (Education and Student Affairs, Eds.). I really see our colleagues’ passion. We are all in a difficult situation with Covid and this occupies much of the Executive Board’s time.”
‘TU Delft is putting pressure on the city’
What impression do you have of TU Delft?
“It is one of the world’s top innovative knowledge institutions. Everyone expresses this through their ambitions, knowledge and energy. At the same time, I also see how tough the situation is. People feel stressed. We are asking a lot of our students and staff, especially as TU Delft is growing. That growth is demanding and may not be what we want, but it is happening and we want to offer good education. To do this, our workforce grew by about 7% or 8% last year and we expect that it will do the same this year. It is important to attract new staff given the workload. But it is not only about recruiting people. Sections and faculties are growing beyond their means, education must be organised for ever larger groups. Managers must ensure that their growing department remains a unity.
It is a significant achievement that the teaching went online so fast during the lockdowns. We are still continuously looking for the right balance between online and on-campus. This sometimes changes every fortnight and this puts a strain on everyone. The Executive Board is putting a lot of effort into hybrid work for students and staff. We are asking ourselves what we can expect from people having to work in their home situations and what do they need from us to do their work well. One of the ways in which we keep track of that is through the employee monitor.”
Your portfolio has a lot of large dossiers. What are the most important ones at the moment and what are the related plans?
“We want to further develop the campus. Over a period of 10 years we will invest EUR 650 million in ensuring that our buildings meet all current standards. One of these is at TU Delft South (the part of the campus closest to Rotterdam, Eds.) where a new building will be built for AS (the Faculty of Applied Sciences, Eds.). The House of Quantum and a new teaching building will also be built there. There will also be new student housing, though the definite location is still to be decided. While student housing is not our job, we do want to take our responsibility. TU Delft is putting pressure on the city and we want to help find solutions.
There are also a lot of other important dossiers, indeed. For example, we need to make sure that we do the digitalisation of TU Delft properly. This involves security, privacy, online and hybrid work as well as optimal support for research. We also need to recruit new people. It is a tight labour market, particularly for specialist positions such as IT and real estate.”
You have previously said that you want to stand up for women in science. How will you do this?
“There are women on the boards of all 14 universities in the Netherlands. At this level things are starting to balance out. The proportion among our directors and deans is almost fifty-fifty, and there are three women in our Supervisory Board. I see a lot of engagement in this subject. However, among the scientific staff there are fewer women than men.
We need to make sure that there is a place for everyone and that we are inclusive in terms of orientation, heritage, religion, age and gender. I hear that female academics still have to find the right path and the right support. If, along with my colleagues Rob Mudde and Tim van der Hagen, I can help in any way, I will do so. We now have 17.3% female professors and have said that we want this to be 25% by 2030. We see the proportion of men/women in the intake gradually change and this is starting to translate to academic personnel.”
‘The differences just seem to be getting bigger’
Are there any other subjects that are close to your heart?
“I believe in the importance of connection. It is important that we pay attention to each other and that students do so among themselves too. We need to check in with each other and ask how things are going and what the other needs. I am hoping for some tender loving care instead of the debasing of debates. It sometimes seems as if any nuance is gone and the differences just seem to be getting bigger. We saw this with the Honorary Doctorate for Frans Timmermans. The responses were strong straightaway. Sometimes the debate was not about facts, but about opinions. Academics who publish on certain subjects face this too. It is not always easy. Our Impact for a Better Society mission is very current and to me is very meaningful. For example, it is wonderful to contribute to TU Delft going climate neutral by 2030.
The Executive Board spoke against unacceptable behaviour in an email to staff and students. This was in response to the news about The Voice of Holland. Will this be followed up on?
“TU Delft strives to be a safe organisation for students and staff. As we wrote in the email, this is high on the Executive Board agenda. Last week and in the coming months we will discuss this with managers at all levels at TU Delft. We believe this will progress a culture of safety and we hope that new ideas will emerge from these regular discussions that we can then work on.”
- Marien van der Meer (1966) studied Business Administration in Leiden and took various courses in management at the international INSEAD institute and Erasmus University. She started her career in consulting. She has 20 years of board experience in academic hospitals. Before joining TU Delft she was a member of the Executive Board of the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Dutch Cancer Institute in Amsterdam.
She describes herself as ‘purpose driven and caring about people, planet and prosperity, the three Ps’. Van der Meer lives in Delft and cycles to campus. And how does she relax? “I take a walk every day as I really believe in the positive effect of the outdoors. I work out three times a week and play golf. I enjoy being with my family, relatives and friends, and love museums.”