Conflict over new vice-rector (who has already announced himself as such): ‘Appearance of favouritism’
While the Executive Board and the University Council bicker over the appointment of a new administrative position – the so-called Vice-Rector of Organisational Development – the prospective candidate, FGGA dean Erwin Muller, has already announced himself as such in a YouTube video. ‘The democratic nature of the university is under pressure.’
Mark Reid
Thursday 18 April 2024
Dean Erwin Muller announces in a video that he has been appointed as Vice-Rector of Organisational Development

The conflict over the new vice-rector, who was supposed to start work as early as 1 May, became evident from an exchange of letters between the Executive Board and the University Council that the Council made public this week.

In March, an internal vacancy appeared on the university website for a ‘Vice-Rector of Organisational Development’ who would focus on ‘the further development of the governance model and the strengthening of integrated policy-making from within the Administration and Central Services’. In addition, ‘the Vice-Rector will proactively feed the board agenda with strategic themes and prioritisation’.

The University Council found this job description to be so unclear that the parties initiated a discussion with the Executive Board. Documents made public by the Council this week reveal that no agreement was reached through this discussion and the subsequent correspondence.

The Council complains about the ambiguity of the range of duties: which responsibilities will the vice-rector be taking over from the Board? The Board replies that the vice-rector ‘will engage in dialogue with the academic community in order to identify bottlenecks in our governance and together with all the stakeholders, provide advice on possible scenarios to achieve a more agile organisation’.

In light of the impending financial constraints, the Council has concerns about the new administrator who costs €600,000 over four years

This explanation is too vague for the Council. ‘What exactly will this person be doing? What influence will this new position have on the organisation? Will this person provide advice independently?’

Especially in light of the impending financial constraints, the Council members have concerns about the new administrator who will cost the university a total of €600,000 over four years, at an appointment of 0.7 FTE. Therefore, they demand that the Board draw up a clear list of duties and authorities and explain why these cannot be accommodated within the current organisation. This is the condition for their approval.

Furthermore, the Council questions the transparency of the recruitment procedure. When the vacancy appeared online in March, the Board already had a candidate in mind. According to the Council, that is not conducive to a transparent governance culture: ‘Even if the Executive Board has a suitable candidate in mind, it is important to follow an open procedure.’ The Council wants to avoid the ‘appearance of favouritism’.

According to the Board, there has been adequate transparency by referring to the prospective candidate in the internal vacancy.

An unlisted YouTube video reveals that FGGA dean Erwin Muller is the candidate in question. ‘Dear colleagues and students,’ he says in the message. ‘Today, I would like to inform you that I have been appointed vice-rector effective 1 May. This means that in the coming years, I will assist the Executive Board in further professionalising and improving the organisation of the university.’ On Wednesday afternoon, the university also announced this appointment via its website.

‘In its haste to proceed with the appointment, the Board forgot to ask the University Council for advice’

Council members react with outrage at the fact that the Board interpreted the Council’s refusal to participate in the appointment committee as a formal positive advice on the position. ‘In its haste to proceed with the appointment of the prospective candidate as vice-rector, the Board forgot to ask the University Council for advice.’

In addition, the Council believes that it has not only the right to issue advice, but also the right of approval since the administrative regulations would have to be amended. The Board disputes this: seeing as the new vice-rector will not be part of the Executive Board, such an amendment would not be necessary.

Nevertheless, the title of vice-rector angers the Council: ‘Substantively, this could have been a policy advisor role, but now, the position is that of an officer who will de facto take on an administrative role and receive a corresponding salary. The person responsible for heading the organisational development project could also have been a committee chair.’ The Board responds that it opted for the title of vice-rector because of ‘the role towards the Executive Board’.

The Board’s reasoning that incidents and crises require time on the part of administrators, thus justifying the need for the appointment of a vice-rector, is also met with disapproval. According to the Council, the Board is creating the image ‘of a university constantly beset by crises’. The sudden need for the new administrative position leads to ‘concern that the democratic nature of Leiden University is under pressure’.

It is important ‘to first identify what keeps the Board away from its core tasks’: ‘The Council advises the Board to take a step back and ask itself: Is this really what is needed right now? What does the organisation think about this? Can the duties be accommodated within the existing organisation?’

To further discuss the matter, the Council and the Board will convene for a specially arranged public Council meeting on 22 April.