The official version is that VHL director Ellen Marks and education director Hans van Rooijen have had a serious difference of opinion and there is no question of dismissal. And yet everyone in Velp is convinced that Marks told Van Rooijen he was sacked and was chiefly interested in knowing whether he would go quietly or not - in other words with or without a legal process.
The news that Marks had announced Van Rooijen's dismissal during a discussion on Tuesday morning went round the Velp campus like wildfire. Many employees are appalled and angry about the decision and want to take action to reverse this unfair dismissal. They include not only the teachers on the Forest and Nature Policy programme run by Van Rooijen, but also other colleagues in Velp.
The eighty staff present at the meeting want to draw up a petition insisting that Marks leaves VHL. Earlier this year, the participational council had passed a vote of no confidence in the general director, with the support of many staff in Velp and Leeuwarden. That confidence was not yet restored and has now plummeted to an all-time low. Already then, a frequently voiced criticism of Marks was that she does not communicate with solid argumentation but on the basis of power. A petition to executive board chair Aalt Dijkhuizen is being prepared, but the writers doubt whether a petition will help.
'We must move on'
Aalt Dijkuizen does not want to comment on the conflict itself. He says, 'Naturally I regret the situation that has arisen, which is very distressing for all concerned. But we must move on. VHL must be prepared for the future. And the basis for that is a good range of course programmes, well-organized internal procedures, and good, motivated staff. This new VHL-wide policy must be implemented quickly in order to seize opportunities on the market, and for that we need everyone's unconditional efforts. So we expect loyalty and support in the implementation. For our side, we do our best to facilitate a situation in which people can collaborate on implementing our strategy as well as possible. A professional organization demands professional workers. This requires commitment from both parties.'
Van Rooijen is popular: he runs a successful programme with many students, which has introduced innovations over recent years. 'Our programme is doing very well', says Roos van Doorn. 'That is because we have a good team and a good director.'
One of the reasons for Van Rooijen's popularity is his critical attitude: he asks questions about the policy pursued by Marks, for example about the future management of the programme.
This critical stance may well have played a role in this latest dispute between Marks and Van Rooijen. The latter was chairing the appointments committee for the new programme director for Garden and Landscape Design, explains Mieke van Dijk of VHL. 'Management and HRM had already selected and invited the candidates, however.' Van Rooijen did not see eye to eye with management on this matter. And Marks could not accept that, at which point the discussion took place.
According to some staff members, Marks accused Van Rooijen of disloyalty to the board, and said he would have to leave. Other staff members cannot imagine that. 'As director you have to be able to cope with a difference of opinion, surely?' At the beginning of this year, when the new educational structure for the institute was being discussed by the management, Van Rooijen already came under fire from Marks. He had several performance discussions at that time.