Student - June 5, 2008

Surprise and indignation at news of Resource publisher change

The news that Wageningen UR will assign its weekly newspaper Resource to Hemels Publishers has elicited responses from many different corners. Wageningen UR employees have taken to mailing an alternative ‘ja-nee’ sticker around, and the Progressive Student Fraction and WSO student union have started a petition, which over 450 people had signed by Wednesday afternoon.

This edition of Resource devotes one and a half pages to a selection of the many letters received from the academic community, students and former employees of Resource’s predecessors. Some writers confine themselves to a few lines of wordplay, taking advantage of the opportunity provided by the name of the new publishers: Hemels translates as ‘heavenly’. Others go more deeply into matters.

Leo Klep, a journalist who used to work for the university newspaper, issues a warning in an ‘open letter’ to Aalt Dijkhuizen: ‘There are serious matters at hand. Matters concerning the quality of Wageningen UR as an academic organisation. Things have gone fundamentally wrong in the European tender for Resource: the fault lies in the procurement guidelines…These mention that the newspaper must be made ‘according to the standards of independent journalism’ and should ‘stimulate opinion and discussion’. He points out, however, that ‘the newspaper falls under the department that is responsible for steering (not facilitating) all central forms of internal and external communication’. He calls it a scandal that the guideline writers even dare mention the Code of Behaviour for Dutch journalists, reminding Dijkhuizen that the first rule is that journalists ‘base their work on the reality they encounter and observe’, and the tenth rule is that they carry out their work ‘independently and avoid (apparent) conflict of interests’. Klep’s sympathy lies with the university: ‘For every subject they want to raise for debate, the question first has to be asked if it is in the (commercial) interests of Wageningen UR. As a business man you know only too well that fundamental innovations often fly in the face of the vested interests. That’s why freedom of opinion is so important in a market economy, as well as in a democracy….Where is academic freedom to be found if everything first has to be measured against the Corporate Communication gold standard?’

A letter signed by five Wageningen professors focuses on the quality of Resource. ‘A recent readers’ survey indicates clearly that the readers are satisfied with Resource. One point made was that the press freedom needed further strengthening. The Wageningen community values an independent view of the developments within and outside Wageningen UR. This is also how science is conducted: facts are critically examined and tested.’ The professors add that they were surprised at the result of the tender procedure and are worried. They express doubt about the ability of a publisher whose experience lies in the field of ‘glossy PR magazines for the car industry, real estate and banks’ to produce a critical and independent newspaper for an academic institution.

A reaction from the Wageningen research institutes, often criticised as being only market-oriented themselves, comes from Theo Vogelzang, a researcher at LEI. ‘I have the feeling that I work for an institution where the top management level bases this kind of important decision purely on form and its own interests and not on content, i.e. the interests of the organisation. That is unworthy of a university.’

The student contributions are in English: a letter from Wilma Smilde, chairwoman of the WSO and a poem from PSF. Smilde points to the future: ‘There are a lot of aspects in the tender that made us wonder what Resource will look like in a few years: only once a fortnight, less student opinion, no critical attitude, maybe a lot of promotion for the University.’