Science - March 30, 2006

Language is barrier to black professor

For a long time now many people have indicated that they would like to see a black professor from Africa appointed in Wageningen. But because it is difficult to exercise influence within Wageningen UR if you don’t speak Dutch, no progress has been made on this front.

This was one of the reasons given during a discussion held (in Dutch) by the alumni association KLV on Tuesday 28 March on the theme ‘Wageningen, World University’. Dr Bram Huijsman, director of Wageningen International, argued during the evening on the internationalisation of Wageningen UR for ‘less white among the lecturers’. ‘A truly ‘world university’ should have a black professor, otherwise we will lose our ‘licence to educate’.’ Huijsman’s opinion is that Wageningen UR should have sufficient internal expertise available to be able to offer education to students from developing countries.

Professor Ken Giller, chair of Plant Production Systems, said that he had sat on a number of appointment advice committees (BACs) for recruiting professors, but that he had never seen a black candidate. Giller, an Englishman who learned Dutch in a short time himself: ‘May I say something here as a member of an ethnic minority? It is impossible to operate at the political level in this university if you don’t speak Dutch.’

Professor Akke van der Zijpp, chair of Animal Production Systems, drew a comparison with the continuing low number of female professors. ‘It is not clear how the BACs regard the question of diversity. Where do they look for candidates, where do they advertise vacancies? I think that the use of Dutch for internal discussions in Wageningen UR definitely has a bad effect.’

Professor Arie Kuyvenhoven, chair of Development Economics, also thought the issue was indicative of a wider problem than just the appointment of a black professor. ‘It’s about the institutional culture. And that is a problem everywhere, not only at Wageningen UR.’ / JT

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