Is the Supervisory Board still impartial?
There has been a vacancy for a member preferred by the participation council (see box) ever since Agnes Schaafsma left the Supervisory Board on 1 November, 2015. The University Council nominated two candidates. The second candidate turned out to be no longer available, and now that Katinka Slump has been rejected, the University Council has to come up with new nominees.
‘I think it’s cause for concern that the Supervisory Board has been incomplete for so long, when now is the time to make important decisions about matters like housing and Yantai’, says Slump.
But isn’t being critical of not only the RUG board, which the Supervisory Board oversees, but also of national educational policies, a supervisory board’s job? ‘Certainly’, responds ministry spokesperson Michiel Hendrikx. ‘As I already said in a response in De Correspondent, the fact that someone is critical is no reason for the ministry not to appoint them. The two nominations are separate. It’s important to realise that if candidate A is unavailable, candidate B is not automatically appointed.’
De Correspondent says that according to the ministry, Slump does not fit the profile of an internal supervisor, for example in terms of administrative experience. ‘We did not necessarily pick Slump on the basis of administrative experience,’ says Bart Beijer, president of the University Council’s Personnel Faction. ‘The Supervisory Board has plenty of members with administrative experience.’
Hilly Mast, who was the chairperson of the University Council at the time of the nomination, says, ‘A job with the Supervisory Council doesn’t involve any administrative tasks. Besides, Slump has different qualities and traits that are very valuable to the Supervisory Board. She has a large network within the world of education and with student organisations, and she is very well-versed in legal matters.’
For years, Slump has committed herself to students and parents with regard to the right to education. ‘I worked as an advisor to student organisations and I often expressed my criticism of the loans system’, she says. ‘Additionally, I am devoted to defending the rights of housebound kids who can’t participate in regular education. My job often meant standing up to the ministry. When the University Board nominated me, I warned them that there was a good chance that the minister would appoint someone else.’
Beijer: ‘But Slump works as an educational lawyer, and her criticism applies to matters that are completely different from those that the Supervisory Board focuses on. We wanted someone critical, especially because of the all the developments: the campus in Friesland, China, the reappointments of the Board of Directors over the past few years. I’m disappointed, because we didn’t nominate her for nothing.’
Freedom of expression
Mast: ‘I’m disappointed that someone who is so good at looking after the needs of the RUG personnel and students was not accepted by the ministry. I think the ministry might be wary of change. My biggest objection is that the ministry tried to restrict Slump’s freedom of expression. The ministry blames her for expressing her opinion on Twitter, and that seems to have influenced her potential appointment. The ministry’s conduct shows that even in the Netherlands, freedom of expression is limited.’
According to Slump, the interview in December 2015 with the director of ‘higher education and student finance policies’ and the director general of ‘higher education, vocational education, science, and emancipation’, was mainly about her attitude towards the media. ‘It would’ve made more sense if they’d asked me about my motivation, my plans, and what contribution I thought I’d make to the board.’
Hendrikx counters this: ‘The interview was about all of the things that the job of a member of a university supervisory board entails.’
Reconsider a nomination
Are these and other events, such as the protests in Amsterdam because the Board there is not listening, reason to reconsider the nomination procedure? Would it be possible for an independent body to appoint the Supervisory Board rather than the ministry?
No, says Hendrikx: ‘We’d have to appoint that independent committee, too. In 2010, the participation council was given a bigger role. There is currently no reason for any further changes.’ Beijer sees the logic in the minister having the final word. ‘The board supervises public universities, which the ministry is responsible for, on behalf of the ministry.’ He cannot readily suggest an alternative, either.
When asked whether grounds for rejection for appointments are legally regulated in any way and whether these should be stated more clearly, Hendrikx responds: ‘The law does leave the minister room to not appoint nominated candidates, and to reject a second nomination, if they can provide sufficient reason to do so. Those possible motivations are not set in stone. They fall under the ministerial responsibility.’
Slump feels that the ministry’s motivations should be clearer. ‘The ground upon which nominated candidates can be or are allowed to be rejected should be made clearer. The minister should make a profile in order to make it clear beforehand which requirements the nominated candidates should meet. Otherwise, they may simply make up reasons for rejection after the fact.’
The board and its appointments
Chapter 9 of the higher education and scientific research act (Wet op het hoger onderwijs en wetenschappelijk onderzoek, Whw) states that every public university in the Netherlands should have a supervisory board.
This supervisory board should have at least three and at most five members. At the RUG, the board consists of five people who are appointed by the ministry of Education for four years at most. It is a part-time, ancillary position.
The board should have one minister-appointed member who was nominated by the university council or, in legalese, the ‘participation council’ (article 9.7 Whw). The minister also appoints one member that is preferred by the university council. These two can come together in one member who is preferred by the university council and nominated by the same, but that is not necessarily the case.
In Slump’s case, it was a combination of the two. The other members are nominated by the Supervisory Council itself on the basis of profiles, which the University Council has the right to consultation about.