Nieuws - 10 maart 2011

A 'real' university it has become

The name change in 1986 was not the start, but the final phase in the transition from agricultural college to agricultural university. That was how former rector Cees Karssen sees it.

When former rector magnificus Cees Karssen held his inaugural speech in 1985, he was interrupted by students who had just been thrown out of the administration building of the Agricultural College.
They had occupied the building to protest against the cost-cutting plans of education minister Deetman. Those plans got a lot more attention in Wageningen than the promotion of the Agricultural College to the Agricultural University a year later. The latter received no more than a short obligatory mention in the former Wageningen College newspaper. On page 5.

Looking back, Karssen says that when the name was officially changed, the consequences were hardly any. 'The Agricultural College had already been functioning as a university. It also had the authority from the start in 1918 to bestow the PhD degree.' The Wageningen institution was increasingly being integrated into the Dutch university world. The 1970's saw Wageningen investing heavily in fundamental sciences. Professors were appointed in chemical sciences groups, including Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Process Technology. That resulted in new education programmes in Nutrition and Molecular Sciences. Other new programmes were Biology and Environmental Hygiene, while the social sciences were expanded. As such, the college in 1986 was already more than just plant, breeding and soil sciences - the applied agricultural disciplines which form the core of the agricultural college.
Fortified by the addition of the fundamental sciences, Wageningen gradually found itself among 'real' universities such as Amsterdam, Utrecht and Leiden. But it remained an outsider. 'Among university administrators from all over the country, the Wageningen executive starts right at the bottom of the ladder', says Karssen. 'Whether you can rise in the echelon depends on your personality.'

One university council
The switch to being a university did have consequences for the internal administrative structure. Since the administrative reform for universities in 1970, the college had a faculty council for scientists, and a college council where students and non-scientific staff came under in the majority. Administrative pressure led to much discussion and a tough process of policymaking. After the name change, only one university council remained.
'That was one management level less', says Karssen. 'The lines became much clearer administratively.' In the college, the dean took charge of education and research matters, and the rector approved the decisions. In those days, the rector had a day off - to enable him to do some research work in the department. He was also abroad quite a lot to maintain Wageningen's expanded international network. In the Agricultural University, the rector again had full responsibility for education and research.

The amendment of the law had a lot of impact on the colleges, says Karssen. In 1986, many smaller schools with secondary vocational education were promoted to become colleges. That was the prelude to a many mergers among colleges. That was how Larenstein (a merger of four schools) and the Van Hall Institute (comprising all agricultural education set-ups in the provinces of Friesland and Groningen) were formed.