Organisation - June 27, 2012

'Painful decision can reverberate for a while'

The executive board will make preparations for unbundling Van Hall Larenstein, Aalt Dijkhuizen told staff of VHL Wageningen. The message was a painful one for the applied sciences university employees in Wageningen, most of whom are in favour of collaboration. No-one jumped for joy in Leeuwarden and Velp either, added Dijkhuizen. He promised: 'We will let VHL go in a tidy manner.'

Staff of VHL Wageningen listening to the explanation given by Aalt Dijkhuizen
'We can't see how we can make it together,' Dijkhuizen explained his decision. 'There is so much massive resistance against further collaboration at the applied sciences university that we will never be able to break the deadlock. We have thought long and hard: is there still a way ahead? We went through the process with Ten Have, during which we laid all our cards on the table. But we can't go any further, given the employee opinion poll.' Dijkhuizen revealed that he could have accepted a vote of 70%-for and 30%-against as a basis for further cooperation.
Furthermore, the strained relationship with the joint participational council (MR) of the applied sciences university played a role in the executive board's decision. 'That has affected me deeply. I have been dealing with the MR for more than a year. It was so negative, and two of the issues had to be brought before the conciliation committee. We don't want to deal with something like this again for another year.' Dijkhuizen feels that this is a 'painful decision which can reverberate for a while'.  'But it's not the end of the world. We managed for a long time without each other, didn't we?'
The directors and management team of the applied sciences university had intended to remain within Wageningen UR, said Ellen Marks. 'We told the executive board: Let's carry on, don't throw out the baby with the bath water.' But she too admitted that there are still problems with the MR, which returned a vote of no confidence in her during the renewal operation VHL Vooruit.  'But a big difference now is that plans have been re-adjusted and we the directors and the MT have grown closer to each other.' Programme director Gerrit Jeuring: 'We are becoming a collective entity and believe in an autonomous VHL.'
Employees of VHL Wageningen were both angry and sad about the unbundling. While one employee wondered if there is still any chance that VHL Wageningen can remain within Wageningen UR, another blamed Dijkhuizen for rewarding the opposing parties by deciding as he did. Dijkhuizen's response: 'The dissatisfaction was very deep-seated. We could have continued with the pro-half but things would come to a head eventually. In the last two to three years, we were just embroiled in internal tussles while the outside world moved on. This is irresponsible and we ought to be realistic.'
Wageningen MR-member Harm Klein agreed with Dijkhuizen. 'It is better to forge unity within VHL first, apart from Wageningen UR. When I joined the MR of VHL, it was a hornets' nest, nothing but distrust among the branches. Since a year ago, the MR has become more unified. I think that the huge distance between the employees in the various locations has led to an attitude of can't-be-bothered and distrust. There was no feeling of 'us' and oneness. That has smothered many a procedure in the past year.' And to this, Dijkhuizen agreed.
So what's next?
A committee will examine the technicalities of unbundling VHL. Among the issues to be considered will be contracts between VHL and Wageningen UR concerning accommodation, catering and other services. In addition, the executive board will make preparations to step down from Van Hall Larenstein. This will be done in conjunction with the Supervisory Board, which will also step down from VHL. The Minister of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation will then have to facilitate the appointment of a quartermaster to name a new executive board. Dijkhuizen hoped that these processes will be completed by September so that the executive board can then formally move to step down.
As to when contracts with VHL should end, decisions would have to be taken together with the new executive board. Dijkhuizen did not rule out the possibility that VHL Wageningen will leave the Forum at the end of this year. 'That can happen. After all, the rental costs were too high, weren't they? We won't pull the plug but the lease contract will certainly come up during the unbundling.'
He advised the directors of VHL to develop future scenarios. 'A strong VHL with a national appeal seems best to me. You need to be sizeable. But an alternative can be to split up VHL. That's something which the staff and the MR have to consider now. What do you want, what shows promise and what is realistic?'

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