Nieuws - 26 januari 2012

VHL: still work to be done

You were not allowed to call it a referendum. Even calling it a vote was going too far. The executive board preferred to talk in terms of an ‘opinion poll' in which VHL staff could make their feelings known.

Officially, the meeting in Zwolle on 18 January was about the ‘Inviting Prospect', a document full of rousing words about VHL's ambitions to become the leading green applied sciences university in the Netherlands. But one can safely assume that most staff members primarily followed their gut feelings: did they or did they not want to stay a part of Wageningen UR?
Sixty percent said ‘yes'. Another 38 percent said ‘no'. Encouraging, says VHL director Ellen Marks. It is not exactly a resounding victory, though. Who would want to run an organization in which almost 40 percent of the staff oppose the adopted policy? What is more, nothing suggests that the yes voters are entirely happy with the way things are going. There are in fact on-going disputes on several sore points: broken promises about educational quality and knowledge exchange made in the merger agreement of 2004, a lack of confidence in the director and the unfulfilled wish for an independent executive board for the applied sciences university. It is more than likely that staff members wrote these kinds of reservation on their voting card. So their vote is really a ‘yes, if...'.
So what next? VHL staff are looking to their management: if they are to win back their confidence, the directors and the board will have to take concrete steps before the summer vacation (when the final decision about whether to unscramble the merger will be made). Will VHL really get the independence its staff want? Will the executive board really put a stop to the enforced internal sourcing of ICT and teaching accommodation. It is no longer enough to write out resolutions on large sheets of paper: relationships are too badly soured for that now.
For the executive board, unscrambling is not an unattractive option. After all, to what extent do the university and DLO see cooperation with VHL as a source of added value? The idea was to offer students a valuable mix of options in green higher education, but up to now it has not delivered much except squabbling and negative publicity.
For a successful marriage between Wageningen UR and Van Hall Larenstein, both parties will have to be prepared to do their best. Otherwise, it seems possible that after eight years, a battle-weary executive board may decide that both parties would be better off going their separate ways.