Student - April 17, 2008

Endowed chair sponsors made public

Wageningen University will publish a list of all sponsors of endowed chairs. The move is in response to a discussion about the influence of the private sector on Dutch universities following an article in the daily de Volksrant on Saturday 12 April.

Of the 200 professors at Wageningen University, 84 hold endowed chairs. Fifteen of them are paid by companies or organisations with close links to industry. The others are financed by research institutes such as RIVM and TNO, the Wageningen University Fund or Wageningen UR itself. The Dutch Dairy Organisation is the biggest sponsor, funding four professorships. According to WUR spokesman Simon Vink, the University is currently investigating whether it is possible to make public all activities of those holding an endowed chair. ‘The Executive Board would like to do so, but we have to be able to guarantee that all functions and positions held by endowed professors are known. Otherwise you get half a list, which is no use to anyone.’ Toon van Hooijdonk, who holds the endowed chair of Dairy Science and Technology and is R&D director at Campina milk company, was named in various newspapers as an example of conflicting interests. The press reported the assertion he made in his inaugural lecture that milk is ‘unmistakeably healthy’, but omitted to mention that Van Hooijdonk works for Campina. Van Hooijdonk was not prepared to comment on the matter.