Administrative crisis sparked by ‘rushed-through’ vice-rector appointment
After a specially arranged meeting on the appointment of the vice-rector, the University Council refuses to issue a positive advice on the sudden appointment. Instead, the Council brings the matter to the Board of Governors. ‘There have already been many mea culpas.’
Mark Reid
Sunday 28 April 2024
Illutration Bas van der Schot

‘The University Council contests the legitimacy of the decision taken because no approval or positive advice was given. In accordance with the legal regulations, the University Council will first request mediation with the Board of Governors’, Council Chair Pauline Vincenten reveals on Wednesday.

This decision is the latest development in an ongoing conflict over the appointment of the new vice-rector. Last week, an exchange of letters with the Executive Board was made public, revealing that the Council still had many questions about the new position and had set a number of conditions for the appointment.

However, while the Council wished to discuss the matter further with the Board, last Wednesday, the university suddenly announced that current FGGA dean Erwin Muller will start as vice-rector on 1 May.

During the specially arranged consultation meeting last Monday, the Council already expressed its dissatisfaction. ‘We feel insulted and not taken seriously,’ said Council member Patrick Klaassen (UB). It was the beginning of a list of issues expressed by almost all Council members.


First of all, it was unclear to them what exactly the new position would entail and what the vice-rector’s relationship to the Board would be. The description given in the correspondence was not clear enough.

‘We tried to explain to the best of our ability what the vice-rector will be doing,’ said Board president Annetje Ottow. ‘Room for innovation needs to be created. The organisation is sluggish and there are administrative bottlenecks. This can all be improved and made more flexible. We want to see if we can create more space and less bureaucracy in the organisational structure to achieve better processes.’ According to her, the new vice-rector will serve a temporary role and the decision-making and responsibility will remain with the Board.

‘If this is an urgent matter, you could have started a regular application process a few months ago’

The Council responded that, given the nature of the position, it is not clear why the Board is in such a hurry to appoint the vice-rector. ‘I have never seen such a hasty and careless procedure,' said student member Bas Knapp of LSP. ‘Why the urgency to rush through this appointment? If you think organisational development is an urgent matter, you could have started a regular application process a few months ago.’

That urgency is due to changing circumstances, according to Ottow. ‘There has been a shift, as evidenced by the social crises we are facing: climate change, the war in Ukraine, the war in Israel, but also other issues such as social safety. We have seen a wind of change sweeping through The Hague and Europe as well, putting our subsidies under pressure. We’ve experienced this urgency first-hand over the past few months. We must to respond to this and we have concluded that a specific role needs to be created to this end, and that this needs to happen as soon as possible.’

Rector Hester Bijl added that in case the expected austerity measures do not materialise, the work of the vice-rector will help alleviate the workload.


The Council argued that the rush had jeopardised the transparency of the application process. According to the Board, that concern is unfounded. There have been ‘eighteen moments of contact’ during the correspondence and the vacancy was open to all.

‘Transparency is not about quantity, but quality,' replied Timothy de Zeeuw (LAG). ‘When we ask about the vice-rector’s duties during those moments of contact, we receive responses like: “The vice-rector will proactively feed the board agenda with strategic themes and prioritisation”.’

The Council also took issue with the fact that the university opted for the prospective candidate they already had in mind. According to the Council, such a procedure had previously only been used for very important reasons. However, Ottow argued that the position required someone who ‘had been part of the organisation for a long time, has broad support and standing’.

‘I’m even more confused now than when I went into the meeting’

Knapp took umbrage at this: ‘You preach diversity, inclusion and equal opportunities. There are policies and rules in place to that end. You also use procedures to dictate to the Council when and how we are allowed to respond. But the Board refuses to follow standard procedures itself, without providing good reasons. By saying that the appointment can no longer be reversed because the vice-rector has already been appointed, the Board is running away from its responsibility.’

De Zeeuw: ‘The vacancy was open for all of five days, including two weekend days, and was not advertised. I don’t consider that an open procedure. And this isn’t the first time we’re faced with these kinds of procedural errors either. There have been many mea culpas.’

When Vice-chairman of the Executive Board Martijn Ridderbos asked about these mea culpas, De Zeeuw and Knapp listed a number of examples, including cameragate and the implementation of proctoring during exams.
Ottow: ‘If the situation had been different, we would have handled it differently.’


At the end of the meeting, the Council and Board remained at odds. ‘I’m even more confused now than when I went into the meeting, because to me, it just seems like a strategic advisor position’, said Klaassen. ‘The title doesn’t match the job description.’

‘It’s a role close to the Board that comes with a certain standing and requires support, which is quite different from a strategic advisor role’, Board president Ottow replied.

Two days after the meeting, the Council members conclude that the University Council will not be able to grant approval or positive advice and will seek mediation from the Board of Governors. Should that mediation be unsuccessful, the next step will be to bring the matter to the National Committee for Disputes in Co-participation in Higher Education.

Mare asked the Executive Board for a response. Spokesperson Caroline van Overbeeke says that “the Board hopes that this procedure will lead to improvements in the process that has been followed’.