Science - January 24, 2020

Professors: Amend Tenure Track

Text:
Albert Sikkema

Wageningen University should amend its rigid tenure track criteria. The severity of these criteria increasingly drives talented professors to choose a position at another university that has less stringent criteria for assessment. That is the message conveyed in a letter to the Executive Board from 38 Wageningen professors.

PhD candidates at work in Radix ©Guy Ackermans

The quantitative criteria in Wageningen for coaching PhD students and postdocs are undesirably high, according to the professors, and are insufficiently accommodating of the current funding climate, workload and differences between specialities.

PhD students
According to the current tenure track criteria, associate professors in Wageningen are required to coach at least 5.5 PhD students per year, and personal professors as much 8. To meet these requirements, scientists must acquire many research projects, but the success rate often does not exceed 10 per cent with organisations such as the NWO. Thus, it is practically impossible to acquire sufficient projects to meet the demands, according to the professors.

Quality
The steep demands lead to an undesirably high workload. The professors also stress that the sheer amount of PhD students is not a good indicator of excellence. ‘Excellence is revealed primarily in the level and quality of scientific output, and in the education and learning progression of the PhD students. In many cases, having a large number of PhD students per coach will have a negative impact on quality.’

Furthermore, the strict demands are often discussed in job interviews with potential tenure track candidates, the professors note. They fear the criteria might discourage potential talented candidates form applying.

Assessment
The professors' petition for a critical review of the quantitative criteria implemented in the Wageningen tenure track system, so that the criteria may be better adapted to reflect the present reality. In support of their request, they refer to a recent plea from the VSNU and NWO for the use for more qualitative criteria in assessing the professors.

The letter which was signed by 38 professors, half of which work at the Agrotechnology and Food Sciences Group (AFSG), was sent on 11 December. Professors from Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences Groups also signed the letter.

Commission
Rector Arthur Mol, to whom the letter was directed, has responded by installing a commission tasked with screening the tenure track criteria. The commission, headed by the dean of education Arnold Bregt, plans to organise meetings to get input and suggestions for improvement from the Wageningen scientists.

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