By Julia Vié
— Ever since AUC’s founding dean, Marijk van der Wende, left AUC, the quest for the new dean has started. The active recruitment is still in process, but in the mean time someone had to take over the tasks of the dean. Ramon Puras, the former vice dean and head of studies of the science department at AUC, became the temporary acting dean. “The AUC board asked me as an interim,” Puras said. “I was very honored, but I only took the job because I know I am supported by a very good and dedicated team.”
The Dean’s Office, with its large glass windows on both sides and its central location in the building, could almost be a metaphor for the openness and centrality the AUC dean and his management try to achieve. “I really had to get used to this transparent environment, because I’m so exposed,” Puras said. “But I do really like the principle of transparency and the fact that everybody can just walk in and out of here.” He laughs, adding that it would, however, be a problem if the whole student or teacher body would all come in together.
Puras’s comments about transparency do not mean that he ignores the ongoing developments regarding De Nieuwe Universiteit/Rethink, and he said that it certainly added another layer to his role of acting dean. “I am not against student/staff participation, on the contrary, and I know that AUC has its own issues that need to be resolved, but our conditions are not the same and need to be distinguished from the conditions at the Universiteit van Amsterdam; the study environment and conditions at AUC are by far better than in most UvA faculties,” he said.
Puras believes that the small, open and flat structure of AUC is one of its biggest advantages. “We have the opportunity to provide more personal conditions for students,” he said. “However, we are getting bigger now and that can be both an opportunity as a challenge.” Not only does the management need more structure in a growing organization, but Puras also thinks it’s a pity he only knows a fraction of the students now, whereas when he started working at AUC, he knew almost everyone. “I realize that AUC is privileged to have the possibility and financial means to be able to select the best students with in general a lot of motivation and interests,” he said.
Puras has been involved with AUC from the very beginning. While teaching at University College Utrecht and the Vrije Universiteit Medical Centre, he heard about plans for setting up a University College in Amsterdam. He got involved and was asked to set up AUC’s science program. “Before, my tasks were mainly curriculum-based, but of course AUC is more than that,” Puras said. “The main difference with my previous job is the broader reach and responsibility I have, such as being involved with student activities and external obligations. I really enjoy being exposed to other areas within AUC as well.”
Just having become a father, Puras tries his best to divide his attention between his family, the managerial AUC tasks, and attending student events. He challenges himself to go out and get to know more students, and he is always thinking of new ways to achieve this, such as having lunch with six randomly chosen students each month. “The founding dean Marijk van der Wende did set a high standard for me, because I’m not only a technical dean but I’m also required to be deeper involved in the AUC community,” he said.
Puras admits that as a consequence, many of his evenings are gone and his hobbies are very limited at the moment. “I tremendously enjoy tasting the cultural atmosphere in a city, and two of my other big hobbies are cycling and cooking,” he said smiling. “But right now my little boy is my main hobby, and he and AUC are my biggest priorities right now.”
Puras believes that being the acting dean is stretching him, just as he believes AUC to be about “stretching students and teachers continuously to achieve a unique learning experience”. However, it can be challenging as well. “The founding dean set up AUC from scratch and in doing that, she set certain expectations that came to be associated with AUC. I am aware that my work will be benchmarked,” Puras admits. “She was really charismatic, and everybody tends to compare me to her.”
Puras knew how she operated and learned a lot from her with regard to management and leadership, but living up to the high expectations of AUC’s students and staff members will be even harder for the new permanent dean. “I do think that people should realize that I have a different personality than Marijk, and so will the new dean,” Puras said. “There are many different ways to achieve the same goal.”