Science - April 22, 2004

One boss for each sciences group

The Executive Board announced this week that the management structure of Wageningen UR is to be streamlined. The five Sciences group will each have one general director. The current positions of Scientific Director and Director for Business Development will be scrapped, and the position of the Management Director will be reduced.

The Executive Board wants to increase cooperation between the Sciences groups, and intends to achieve this through more frequent meetings with the General Directors of each group, with a focus on decision-making. A ‘new-style joint board’ will meet once a fortnight, and will consist of the Executive Board, the directors of the Sciences groups, the director of Van Hall-Larenstein and the director of the institutes with statutory research tasks. This new board, consisting of ten members, will be the central management body of Wageningen UR, responsible for setting out the broad lines of joint policy.

According to President of the Executive Board, Professor Aalt Dijkhuizen, the credo will change from ‘decentralised unless’ to ‘together because’. The changes are being introduced because the Executive Board considers the current structure too unwieldly. The number of meetings must be reduced and responsibilities need to be more clearly defined. The ‘board of ten’ will not require a majority vote to pass its decisions. If the members cannot reach unanimous agreement then the Executive Board will make the decision, and if there is disagreement between the three members of the Executive Board, it will be the President who has the final say. As Dijkhuizen put it: “Clear lines with clear responsibilities.”

The proposals are still at the draft stage, but a definite proposal for the changes will be ready in May, and this will be presented to the joint representative councils. Once they have given their approval, the expectation is that the changes will be introduced after the summer vacation. Dijkhuizen: “We don’t want this to drag on. It’s not necessary and many of the positions are already in place.”

Once the changes to the management structure have been implemented, Dijkhuizen wants to turn his attention to the support staff in the Sciences groups. “There will have to be adjustments, and the emphasis will be on cooperation.” According to Dijkhuizen, the management structure changes will be to the benefit of researchers and teaching staff: “It will no longer be necessary to lobby at all sorts of different levels, as it will be clear who takes the decisions. There’ll be less messing about on the work floor.”

Initial reactions to the announcements

Professor Fons Voragen, present Scientific Director of the Agrotechnology and Food Sciences group:
“The news certainly affected me. When I heard the announcement I felt the ground give way under my feet. Being director of a sciences group is a demanding and intensive job. If it suddenly disappears, well….It has made me realise though that we do have a problem in Wageningen. Competition, particularly between the research institutes is a problem. A more centralised and therefore quicker decision-making process could help matters, but it will take more than just this. Attitudes will also have to change. We have to stop competing and seek out each other’s strengths. It’s not clear to me yet whether the new model will help this. I’m not sure how much room for creativity will remain if the top management becomes more centralised.”

Professor Ivonne Rietjens, Chair of Toxicology:

“The distance between management and the work floor is too great at present. A great deal of the responsibility and power lies with the managers and very little with those on the work floor. The organisation is very ‘top-down’ and that puts people off. At least it is now clear that the top has received this message, and that’s good. But it’s too early to say whether this will be the solution. A big problem is the mentality and culture within the whole organisation, and you can’t change that just by drawing a new organisational diagram. This change will certainly not help the bureaucracy. Overheads are far too high at the moment, and nothing is being done about that, while it’s the biggest problem. I read wonderful memos about restructuring meetings, but no one has asked the question yet, whether we can pay for all this.”

Korné Versluis

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