Nieuws - 15 november 2012

'Tenure track agreements implemented incorrectly'

The stringent criteria also being applied to existing staff. Employees' council is threatening legal action.

The career prospects of Wageningen scientists may be hampered because they are wrongly being put on a tenure track by the university, says the Wageningen UR employees' council. According to the WUR council, it was agreed when the academic career policy was introduced in 2009 that it would not apply to existing research staff. But apparently the university is not keeping to that agreement.  That is why the WUR council has declared the implementation of tenure track for existing staff to be 'null and void' in a letter to the executive board. If the board and employees' council cannot settle matters within six weeks, the council will take the case to the arbitration board. 'And if that doesn't get a satisfactory result, we will go to court. We would prefer an amicable solution, but we'll do it if we have to. If you make a principled stand, you have to be prepared to see it through.'
Up or out
The new career policy was introduced in order to attract and retain first-rate academic staff for Wageningen. The basic idea is that anyone who satisfies (stringent) evaluation criteria will be rewarded after twelve years with an appointment as professor holding a personal chair. And if you don't satisfy those criteria, you have to leave. Tenure track was soon known as 'up or out'.
The employees' council says it consented to tenure track in 2008 on condition that existing staff could join on a voluntary basis and would also retain their legal position and conditions for promotion. In other words, any assistant professor wanting promotion should be able to do so on the old terms. Now the employees' council sees that existing staff are also being subjected to the strict criteria of the tenure track.
Tineke Tromp, HRM director, confirms this: 'If existing staff want to make another move in their career, they will indeed have to satisfy the tenure track criteria. After all, we don't want first-class and second-class scientists. That is the policy and it has been discussed again and again. The employees' council apparently disagrees but they will have to back this up with evidence.'
Unequal opportunities
The reason the employees' council is only coming up with objections now is that the academic career system was evaluated at the start of this year. The employees' council concluded on the basis of this evaluation and talking to people in the organization that the agreements have not been kept. And researchers are not all getting the same opportunities, claims WUR council chairman Cees van Dijk. 'Our analysis shows that the different science groups are taking different approaches. In some science groups people are still being appointed under the old system. That is inequality before the law.' Incidentally, Van Dijk is not prepared to make his survey public.
On 8 November, the WUR council declared the introduction of the tenure track system for existing staff to be invalid. The board and employees' council had their first discussion about the issue on 14 November; the outcome is not known. 
There will be serious consequences if the decision is ultimately reversed. Hundreds of researchers are affected. Those who did not opt for tenure track may have missed promotion opportunities because they did not satisfy the new criteria. And there may be tenure track researchers who did not satisfy the new criteria but could have been promoted under the old system. If a court decides that the policy should never have applied to them, this may lead to claims from employees.