News - March 3, 2010

Aalt 3: a good decision?

In spite of negative advice from the Advisory Council, Aalt Dijkhuizen has been reappointed for a third term as chairman of the board of Wageningen UR (see also p6). He does have to forfeit part of his bonus and he has been given a number of points for improvement. So is Dijkhuizen's reappointment a sensible move?

Aalt Dijkhuizen
Henk Siepel, head of the Centre for Ecosystem Studies at Alterra and Wageningen University:
'If you look at the facts, Dijkhuizen has done a lot for Wageningen UR. Student numbers have gone up and Wageningen has a strong position in the world. The cuts within DLO were dealt with well and we now have an ambitious building programme. These are all important things for our image in the outside world. With Dijkhuizen you know what you get: if you take on a new director you have to wait and see. We are facing a number of important decisions, including the new chair plan and a DLO strategy, and continuity is handy for this. I do hope that he still has enough interest and energy to go for it for another four years.
'I think it is right that bonuses are under fire in society. I do not have a problem with someone with a lot of responsibility going a bit above the Balkenende norm, but it should not go too far. I think Dijkhuizen's salary is high, but I find it hard to say whether it is excessive. It is certainly a nice little earner.'

Rijkelt Beumer, associate professor at the Food Microbiology Group 
'The chairman of the executive board is appointed twice, that is the rule. After that he should go. A third term is only justified if a large delegation of staff demonstrates outside the main building with banners saying 'Aalt must stay'. The fact that the Advisory Council's advice about a third term was negative tells us enough. And that a number of points for improvement were also put forward should be reason enough for Dijkhuizen not to go for a third term. Apparently the first four years were good but the second four were less so, since there were points for improvement. If someone is past their best, you should not take them on for a third term.
'That Dijkhuizen's salary is equal to that of three professors is ridiculous. As far as I am concerned, his salary should be a little above the Balkenende norm, maximum. And that he gets a bonus on top of that is too crazy for words. He gets paid for his work, and if you ask me, twice as much as he should be. It is not appropriate to get a bonus when there are points for improvement. And anyway, any bonus should go towards the University, just as the Teachers of the Year use the bonus for their education.'

Frans Kok, professor of Nutrition and Health
'It is not very usual to give a director a third term. But dark clouds are building up over Wageningen, and Dijkhuizen showed with Focus 2006 that he knows how to deal with budget cuts. Wageningen is well and truly on the map: it has more students and its image has improved. We have all done that together, but it is an achievement for the Executive Board.
'We need to look out for too much management and control, as that will detract from the spirit. Dijkhuizen should pay still more attention to inspiring people and to strategy. I think Aalt has got that in him. He has vision, he is charismatic and he is a strong communicator. An important point for me is that the University should become more involved in the decision-making by the Board of Directors. We need to grow into a third-generation university: a flexible organization that makes full use of the scope for developing and marketing knowledge. 
'I do not feel that Dijkhuizen's salary is in keeping with the responsibilities and the risks involved in his position. The fact that DLO is under him as well is not enough reason for such a high salary. Just like the University, DLO is mainly financed by ministries and the EU, and very little through the commercial market. There is little difference in the way the two institutions are managed. For our image, both internally and externally, the level of his salary is quite sensitive.'    

Suzanna van der Meer, member of PSF and Central Council of Employees and Students
'It is a scandalous that the Supervisory Council does not do its job, and reappoints somebody with so little support amongst staff and students. Dijkhuizen proclaims Wageningen UR to be an international university, but takes no further responsibility for the consequences. For example, he refuses to have policy papers translated into English because he says there isn't enough money for that. He thinks only in image and figures and he forgets the people behind the figures.
'The market-oriented research promoted by Dijkhuizen goes on at the expense of independent research. Research should focus on finding the facts and not the biggest money bags.
'His salary is scandalously high; it is irresponsible. That reduction of his bonus is hypocritical, I think. What difference does that make to such a massive sum?  For the Advisory Council to discuss the points for improvement with Aalt will be a fruitless exercise. If he does not value that sort of input himself and cannot cope with criticism, I do not think there is much point in imposing it on him. Even though his sense of hierarchy could come in useful here.'

Cees van Dijk, Chair of the Central Council of Employees and Students
'The Central Council thinks that the chair of the Executive Board must not stay longer than two terms. I support that myself. As time goes by the chemistry works off and irritations and tensions build up. The Central Council advised the Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality that the board chairman should serve a maximum of two terms. In the same letter it was advised that the salary should be in line with the Balkenende norm. That did not help. Something has been done about the bonus though; you have to start somewhere.
'If the Supervisory Council wants him for another term they must see qualities in him that will be useful in a period of expected budget cuts. This puts Dijkhuizen in a strong negotiating position. The last round of reorganization in Wageningen UR did go pretty well. We shall have to see whether the points for improvements raised by the Central Council will work out positively. The fact is that Aalt Dijkhuizen has been reappointed: he remains chair of the Executive Board. You have to judge what happens now in terms of content.'