Change is timeless

rustRick Verschoof

This week I realized that during my entire professional life I have had to deal with changes. This already started when I was still working at the UU from 1985 until 1994. Simply in the education I experienced the semester system (2 teaching periods), the ‘block system’ (5 teaching periods) and the trimester system (3 teaching periods). At that time most colleagues found these changes a good idea. But good ideas are also time-bound. So I was not surprised that when I returned to the UU in 2012, I found a system of four teaching periods.

And, once again back in time, I was only working for a few years at the courts when major changes were announced. Since 1999, the courts have immensely professionalized and modernized themselves as an organization. As a court manager I have stood on the front line for ten years, it was a golden age to witness and – on a modest scale – help shape.

These developments occurred rather gradually, but unfortunately not all changes do. We cannot always talk of an evolution and a natural unfolding. The revision of the judicial map, with the emergence of the major merged courts, was a revolution, or in more appropriate terms, a reorganization. This has cost blood, sweat and tears. These decisions had just been taken, when I joined the Department of Law in the middle of a reorganization. People had to leave. The atmosphere was not good and it took over a year for the department to get back to normal. Compared to this, my court was an oasis of tranquility.

Meanwhile, it is one and a half years later and it cannot be true but… yet again another reorganization, now at the courts. Last week, you will have heard it in the news, it has been decided that ‘seven courts will close’. The quotation marks are there for a reason, because what is said is not strictly true. Some explanation. No courtrooms will close. At all the current locations court sessions will still take place. Only sessions in more complex cases will be removed from the locations where the ‘seven courts will close’. But 90% will remain at the old locations. Citizens will barely notice the change. What also will not happen is that one or more of the current merged courts (there are 11) will cease to exist. All eleven will remain. So what is actually happening? Seven office location will close. The current eleven merged courts who currently house their people in 20 locations in the Netherlands, will soon only be in offices in 13 locations. The court ‘Midden-Nederland’ is one of the courts which will reorganize: the current two office locations will merge into one. Lelystad is closing, everyone who has a desk there, will soon be sitting at a desk in Utrecht. This concerns more than 200 people. That creates many other, and probably longer, commuting travels, but also increases traffic between the Utrecht office and the Lelystad court complex. That costs money, but less money than the million lease of the building in Lelystad. And that is the reason for all this: even the courts must cut back from 2016 onwards, where they had previously been spared. The motto is: we invest in people, not in bricks. That motto also leads to another change in Utrecht: we all get smaller offices (another budget cut) by working flexible hours. The same will occur in the six other locations in the Netherlands, although I do not know if everyone will start working flexible hours. The atmosphere is – especially in Lelystad – not good. Colleagues have let Omroep Flevoland know that they do not agree with the changes and I heard some walked through the court house crying. When this reorganization will actually take effect is uncertain. It depends on lease contracts and the departure of other users from our courthouse in Utrecht. But although this could still take many years, compared to all of this our Department of Law is an oasis of tranquility…. Working in two organizations has the disadvantage that I face more changes, but the advantage is that I can partly withdraw from these by working at the other organization.

I sympathize with my colleagues in Lelystad who will experience the feeling that their whole organization is disappearing, the organization to which they feel connected. But I also sympathize with the management of the court that – in a national context – has been forced to help cut back 100-150 million euros per year, which is impossible without taking drastic measures, even if one would have preferred otherwise.

I wish us all a calm academic year!