Does the Board of Directors really believe in beta-gamma integration?
TAO resurrected in new plan, but terms unacceptable
The WAU's new Organisational Plan, unveiled last week, includes a reworking of the first business plan regarding chair groups. Technology and Agrarian Development (TAO), the University's bridge between beta and gamma sciences, was resurrected from the first plan's scrap heap. While professor Bert Speelman (one of the WAU's four Board members) expects TAO's professor Paul Richards to be pleased that his chair group has made a comeback, Richards reports that he is almost speechless with rage because of conditions imposed on his group within the new plan: I don't see that the Board really believes in beta-gamma integration.
The group still needs to prove its competence, stated Bert Speelman earlier this week when asked why the TAO had limitations imposed on it. After two favourable evaluations, Paul Richards is wondering why TAO remains at a half chair rating, which limits its staff capacity. In addition, the new plan has a separate footnote for TAO, designating 20,000 guilders less than is the norm for the 0.5 credit rating. TAO is also the only chair group that must undergo another evaluation in two years' time
TAO was created in 1993 to provide a bridge between the technical (beta) and social (gamma) sciences, a step towards integration that forms a major component of the present Board of Directors' vision for the University. Because TAO forms a ground-breaking initiative at the WAU, it started as a five-year experiment in beta-gamma integration. Specifically, the group focuses on farmer innovations in plant breeding and biotechnology
Since 1994, however, the chair group has found itself struggling for support from the University. While originally set up as a full chair it was cut to a half rating after a year, while normally this would not occur before the five years are up. Reinstatement of the original full chair has been promised on numerous occasions by the Board, subject to evaluations. Two independent evaluations of TAO were performed in 1996 and 1998. Both were favourable, calling for the restitution of the full chair. Richards sees the limitations specified in the new plan as a slap in the face, despite the fact that the group has been resurrected: No other group has to undergo three evaluations within four years - the Board does not even seem to take seriously the peer reviews already performed.
At a certain point, the money runs out, begins Speelman in defence of the Board's decision to impose exceptions on the chair group. TAO is an interesting group, but it still needs to prove that there is a need for its courses within the university programmes. Of the four courses now offered by Richards and assistant professor, Guido Ruivenkamp, only one is compulsory. Speelman continues, The group is still not running smoothly. We are calling for another evaluation in two years to see whether TAO courses are able to be integrated within the University.
The group recognises the need for integration. Ruivenkamp: I have spent a lot of energy knocking on doors to get our courses included in different programmes, but people feel the need to defend their own territory to be sure of making enough money. Richards: The chair groups have no control over educational programmes. Political games played by department heads determine whether courses become compulsory or not. Richards believes that if a system without compulsory courses were used, more students would be attracted
Neither Richards nor Ruivenkamp understands the logic of the Board. Richards: At this point, I'm wondering what I'm doing here. I feel I have wasted the last seven years of my life trying to build up something that has no real support from the University. The way the group keeps getting undercut, I don't see that the University really believes in beta-gamma integration. The Board needs to show me that it backs TAO through the reinstatement of a full chair. Speelman sees it differently, however: Richards should be pleased that we've managed to get his chair group back into the new plan at all. The foundation is there, now it's up to him to do something with what he's got. Ruivenkamp adds: If we are to take the Board's commitment to beta-gamma integration seriously, we need to see an evaluation on integration within established groups like biotechnology, nutrition and plant sciences, rather than putting all the pressure on a small group to push for change.