Student - November 20, 2008

THE CODE OF CONDUCT PAYS ATTENTION TO HUMAN RIGHTS

Wageningen UR has a new Code of Conduct for scientific practice. It is based on the code of the Dutch Universities’ Association, in which the principles of reliability, verifiability and independence are central. Wageningen UR has added respect for nature, human rights, life and culture.

‘These are the norms and values that we espouse’, explains Herman Eijsackers. He is chair of the Ethics Committee, which has condensed a thick report on ethical codes of conduct for scholarly activities into a 14-page document. ‘Issues like sustainability and human rights are close to our working field. We have paid extra attention to these things.’

For example, the document rules that ‘Wageningen UR employees and units wishing to enter into a relationship with organizations in countries where human rights are (or may be) abused should always discuss this choice with their immediate superiors. (…) Every Wageningen UR staff member has the right to refuse to implement a project or pursue contacts in a country on the basis of individual considerations regarding the human rights situation there. This should have no consequences for his or her career within Wageningen UR. By the same token, Wageningen UR may forbid its staff to form contacts with such countries.’

The Wageningen Code of Conduct differs from the national one in that it also applies to non-university scientific institutes. Eijsackers: ‘We have made certain adjustments for the DLO institutes. Whereas research at the university must always contribute to the advance of science, that is not the case for the institutes. They do contract research, which isn’t always particularly innovative.’ And sometimes a client asks the institute to hold back on publishing results - which is out of the question with publicly funded university research.

The university should generate new knowledge and has an obligation to teach students the ‘state of the science’ as independently as possible, says Eijsackers. ‘For example, there is a teacher here who is deeply religious, but who can separate his own belief in the existence of something else beyond evolution from his duty to convey knowledge as well as possible’.
Eijsackers hopes that the code of conduct will generate plenty of discussion. The directors of the knowledge units have even been asked to stimulate this kind of discussion. ‘By thinking together about what we consider good scientific education and research, this will become a living document and they will be rules that we want to keep.’ Eijsackers believes that this will make it superfluous to keep checking whether the rules are being kept.

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