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Green light for academic staff policy after ‘elephant pregnancy’

MAASTRICHT. Applause for the tenure track policy and broad consent for the professor scheme. Last week, the University Council showed that it was satisfied with the adaptations implemented by the rector after criticism from the council.

“A tremendous step in the HR policy,” said council member Mark Govers (academic staff) about the acceptance of in particular the memo on the tenure track procedures (see Observant 28). This constitutes an important part of the career policy for academic staff, something that was carried out in a completely random way by the faculties for many years. The present memo includes a uniform outline and clear basic principles. Govers called for a round of applause from the council for rector Rianne Letschert's efforts, who in turn spoke of ‘an elephant pregnancy’, which after all can last 22 months. Letschert herself has only been in the job for less than a year.

The elephant metaphor also applied to the professor scheme (‘recruitment, selection and appointment of professors at the UM’); this is also an attempt to set up uniform rules for the types of professors who may work at the UM, and this policy also dragged on for a long time. The latter memo was cause for more criticism: for example, there was hardly any to no provision for intervention by faculty councils in the appointment of university professors. This is the special category of exceptional professors who cover a certain area of science deemed strategically important by the Executive Board. The UM has four of those at the moment. In practice, this concerns people from elsewhere, or sometimes even a group that is ‘bought’, a process where speed can be of importance. The regulation now contains the stipulation that the ‘anchor’ faculty in such a case is called together for an urgent meeting, receives information about the candidate, and is subsequently able to put forward a recommendation.

Another at least equally fundamental issue concerned the figure of the professor of professional practice, a variant of the professor occupying an endowed chair - someone who is appointed and paid for by an external party. Whereas the latter should meet all regular requirements, including proven research qualities, the professor of professional practice is taken on for “specific co-ordinating roles and positions” in education or patient care. Such a person does not supervise researchers, is the basic principle. This is the reason why in the previous version of the memo, this professor had been deprived of the ius promovendi, which is the authority to guide researchers to their PhD title. The criticism from both within and outside the council is that without this PhD right, a professor is not a real professor.

But according to the legal advice that Letschert sought from the legal firm Capra Advocaten, it was possible, she said three weeks ago. She has retracted this: “In a formal sense, a professor of professional practice cannot be deprived of the ius promovendi,” the regulations now state. Nevertheless, this professor will not make use of that right, and this is based on a legal trick. Because the Board of Deans is the body that designates supervisors for particular PhD students, it has now been decided that the deans will not do so in such a case: the professor of professional practice will never be appointed as a supervisor.

The rector is not sure whether this course of events is legally airtight: in the accompanying text for the University Council meeting, Letschert says that she wishes to check things with the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

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