The articles on the recently arrived Chinese BSc students in Wb 36 elicited
a widespread response. The letters in Dutch appear here in translation.
Open letter to the Executive Board
It was with surprise that I read your response to the articles in Wb about
the language ability of Chinese students. You write that you consider the
articles ‘insulting and painful’. I do not agree with the first adjective,
but concur with you about the second. However, my concern lies with the
fact that you have made your opinion known to all employees of Wageningen
UR, and therefore also to the whole of the Netherlands. My main anxiety in
this matter is the image of Wageningen UR as an open, independent and
critical scientific institution. National newspapers including NRC and the
Volkskrant have already carried negative reports of the way in which
Wageningen UR is managed. I am afraid that the damage will only be
increased by this most recent response.
When Wageningen University and the DLO institutes merged I hoped that ‘we
at DLO’ would exchange the somewhat rigid ‘top-down’ management style for
the openness of the university climate. Unfortunately I have the impression
that the DLO approach has now also taken over the university. I wonder
whether enough attention was paid to the communicative impact of your e-
mail? Our image plays an important role not only in recruiting students,
but also in acquiring contracts and assignments. In the scientific and
academic world, in my opinion, this image is described by terms such as
openness, room for discussion, differences of opinion and, last but not
least, a university press that also embodies these characteristics. We need
a Wb that does not function as his master’s voice, but openly and
critically reports on all aspects of issues relating to our organisation.
If there is repeatedly a reaction from above every time that critical, to
you displeasing, articles are published this is unlikely to be good for our
image. We run the risk that Wageningen, already regarded by many as a
provincial backwater, will become the laughing stock of academia.
In conclusion, you expect all our staff to work towards developing a joint
‘WUR-feeling’. But if I listen carefully to the noises in my surroundings,
you are more likely to achieve exactly the opposite with this kind of
reaction. I hope that the ‘process of learning and change’ upon which you
are about to embark applies not only to ordinary members of staff, but also
to those in WUR headquarters. I would also advise you in future to consult
your communication and image advisers on the potential impact of your
response. I can be easily reached on the phone as well.
Head of Communication
Alterra / Wageningen University Environmental Sciences
Wb reports on the events that occur within the university. This time it was
not about the happy faces at a recruitment day for high-school students but
an article about the difficulties of cooperation between the Chinese
Agricultural University and Wageningen University. Ouch, bad news for our
partners, so all students have to be sent a mail (up to three times over)
that Wb has placed critical comments and that the Executive Board does not
tolerate this! Bad news hurts, but to refer to it as offensive? Is there no
room at all left in this university for criticism? Perhaps the
representatives of this university picked up more on their visits to China
than I realised. Freedom of the press is still thorny issue there. I am
pleased to be part of an international university, but I would like to
think that I am working in an academic environment where people can deal
with criticism in an adult fashion.
Dirk van Apeldoorn,
Wageningen Student Organization
“In the previous edition of Wb there was an article about the difficult
start that the new Chinese students in Wageningen had got off to. That this
group is encountering problems is by now widely known, and this sometimes
leads to uncalled-for comments, but I would dare to add my view that the
article on page five is well argued, sheds light on the situation and is
certainly not sensationalist.
Like everyone else at Wageningen UR, I received an e-mail signed by Mr
Speelman this week, the contents of which astounded me. The essence of the
e-mail message was that he condemns the article. Reporting on this subject
is regarded by the university as undesirable. This sounds like censorship,
intended to cover up the problems relating to this group of Chinese. It
seems to me that we find ourselves in a strange situation, in which freedom
of the press is being suppressed by the university. If it were the case
that Mr Speelman believes that the information in the article is incorrect
then his criticism would be appropriate. But then the criticism should be
directed to the Wb and not spread via another medium to which no public
response can be given.
Of course I also hope that the new group of Chinese is of the right level
to join the degree course here, and that the problems of adjustment they
may be experiencing will not hamper their participation in the programme.
Ultimately, however, this group is not likely to benefit from problems
being covered up for the sake of the good name of the university.