Bald de Vries appointed professor of Interdisciplinary legal education

Bald de Vries, foto: Ivar Pel
Foto: Ivar Pel.

It is a unique chair in the Netherlands: Bald de Vries has been appointed full professor of Interdisciplinary Legal Education at the Faculty of Law, Economics, Governance and Organization of Utrecht University. “It is extremely interesting and also of societal importance to connect law with other disciplines.” De Vries has been focusing for years on innovating and studying legal education and academic education in a broader sense. Because, according to him, something is at stake in times of polarisation.

This is a new chair, how and why was it created?

From our faculty, I had been working for some time in the Senior Fellow Programme of the university's Center for Academic Teaching & Learning. This is intended to increase the number of professors with a special focus on education. I think it's great that the university recognizes the importance of making career paths that focus on education possible. The range of Interdisciplinary legal education is also increasing, two new full-fledged minors have been started this academic year. Re-Imagining Security, of which colleague Katharine Fortin is one of the coordinators, and the minor Taal, recht en cultuur of which colleague Hanneke van Eijken is one of the coordinators and in which I also teach.

How do you feel about providing interdisciplinary education?

It offers the opportunity to reflect on the law through both a legal and non-legal lens and that is valuable. Together you learn from each other and I really enjoy that. For example, I teach the course Language, Law, Rules and Interpretation together with linguist Marijke de Belder and both we and the students learn to look through the eyes of someone with a different background. And that goes beyond learning new technical terms and jargon. You gain a different point of view and learn to understand it. And you also learn what knowledge, outside your field, you still need and how to ask other professionals with the right questions. Many social problems cannot, by definition, be solved by a single discipline. And not even interdisciplinary, but transdisciplinary, that is to say also with partners outside science.

Many societal problems cannot, by definition, be solved from a single discipline.

Bald de Vries, foto: Ivar Pel
Bald de Vries
Full Professor of Interdisciplinary Legal Education

What are the experiences of law students who take courses at other faculties and vice versa? Is that going well?

Their study results are comparable, most students who take such an elective course have an academic attitude and are motivated. What we do notice, for example compared to the humanities, is that legal students work very analytically and humanities scientists are more critical. That also makes a working group very interesting, if it includes a mix of students.

You are currently education director of Bachelor Education at the School of Law. How will you fulfill the new role of professor?

That directorship will last for only a little more than a year, after which I will have more time to work within the chair. This new appointment will actually give me more time then before, to focus on education and research into education.

Who will you collaborate with?

One of the beautiful aspects of becoming a professor is the ius promovendi. We will look at how we can offer opportunities in the chair to researchers who want to obtain a PhD, which could be people from legal education or, for example, educational experts. That makes it very interesting.

You don't do this alone, becoming a professor. I realize that very well, I feel supported by everyone who has contributed to this.

Bald de Vries, foto: Ivar Pel
Bald de Vries
Full professor of Interdisciplinary Legal Education

What was it like to receive the appointment letter?

Quite a celebratory moment, I was certainly very proud for a while. At the same time, everyone should know: you don't do this alone, becoming a professor. I realize that very well, I feel supported by everyone who has contributed to this. By that I mean fellow researchers and teachers who have created opportunities for me, your name is mentioned somewhere, an opportunity is pointed out to you, people want to work with you. The appreciation you receive. I am also thinking of administrators who nominate you for a role (such as chairman of an examination committee), which makes it possible to further utilize your focus - in my case - education, for example the opportunity to join that Senior Fellow Programme from the faculty. taking the CAT was wonderful. And I also think of all the supporters, the non-scientific colleagues with whom I enjoy working together.

Should it be possible within the university to focus entirely on teaching and not, or less, on research?

I think education and research are an extension of each other. But I certainly think it is time for a reassessment of academic teaching. Teaching still too often loses out in the battle with research. I wrote a piece about this topic in the June issue of Ars Aequi, together with Leonie van Lent. We want more investments in teachers. With an emphasis on education, innovation in education, and research into education: 'principal educators'.

It is time to reassess teaching at the university.

Bald de Vries, foto: Ivar Pel
Bald de Vries
Full professor of Interdisciplinary Legal Education

Teachers who have not yet obtained their PhD should also be given the time and opportunity to, for example, develop new educational materials or write a book or contribute to updating the content of a course. A painful point, because at Law we have many junior lecturers and we sometimes fall short. And especially for these large courses, with up to three thousand students, it is crucial that you invest in the teachers. Imagine: a course that a thousand people have to follow. Organizing and designing quality education, on that scale. Just stand by it. That's close to my heart. In short, I am very much looking forward to working as a professor for the quality of our academic education in the coming years and I am extremely happy with this chair.