News - October 8, 2009

The value of our norms

What are our norms worth if nobody sticks to them? The scandalously high salaries of top civil servants have bugged me for years. Then a limit was set: the 'Balkenende norm'. It wasn't exactly peanuts: over 180 thousand euros a year. But how often is that norm exceeded? If companies wants to pay a top manager more, all they have to do is justify it.

The Dutch general education union has just issued a list of the salaries of top managers in higher education. My mouth fell open when I read that Wageningen UR was in the top ten. And not just in one place, but in three!  It gets worse, because who is at the very top of the 'blacklist'? You guessed it, our very own Aalt Dijkhuizen. A questionable achievement by our top manager. And those other two Wageningen managers are way above the Balkenende norm, too. What does this tell us about the value of our Wageningen norms?
It seems to me a very dubious honour for Wageningen to be in the news for something like this. Especially in view of the cuts that are coming up at the workfloor level. More and more costs are being passed on to the staff. Project acquisition is becoming a matter of professional life and death for researchers. Promotions are being postponed, and we are called upon to understand that these are hard times...
And students are being asked to tighten their belts too. The basic grant has been frozen for the next two years. And it seems that Minister Bos is even considering turning it into a loan. There are similar plans for the supplementary grant.
Cuts all over the place, then - except for the fat-cat salaries. No doubt the top managers have good arguments to support this. Luckily, Mr. Dijkhuizen has generously announced that there is no reorganization planned at Wageningen UR. He thinks we can keep on growing even in difficult times. We will just have to hope that his norms are in the right place, and that by growth he doesn't have his own salary in mind. /Marelle Boersma