MAASTRICHT. Antoon Vugts is leaving as director of Human Resources at Maastricht University. The ‘road to improvement’ upon which he embarked three and a half years ago has seen little progress, the Executive Board reported in an internal announcement to the university community. After “very enervating“ years and a recent “lengthy absence due to COVID-19”, Vugts is thought to lack the strength required to make the follow-up steps at HR.
The HR director is the third senior university official to leave prematurely and, at the very least, not leave entirely voluntarily. In May, the Executive Board’s spokesperson, Gert van Doorn, left the UM, a month later it was director of Student Services, Pascal Breuls’ turn.
Vugts’ departure comes shortly after a survey of the culture within the HR department was completed. The reason for the survey was the feeling of unsafety among the employees and rather a lot of criticism regarding those in charge. The culture survey, commissioned by the HR management team and the Executive Board and carried out by an external advisor, started last October and the report was completed by November.
When Vugts started as director of HR in June 2017, he had great plans. What he found, was a department that had been “neglected for ten years”, he said in Observant, because of which the sixty employees did not work according to “modern standards” and all too often were “accomplices of the management”. Together with UMIO (post-graduate education), he set up a two-year course for HR advisors and said: “This will not be a process that is free of obligations; the results will have to be visible in practice. And it is possible that they will not all be successful.” He also wanted to tackle the digitalisation of the HRM tasks, set up leadership programmes and try something different with the performance and assessment interviews. HR advisors should start to think ‘in a more policy-based way’.
All those plans and their implementation have apparently not contributed to the atmosphere and the feeling of safety within the service. Criticism of HR has not subsided either. In the ombudsman’s annual report (recently discussed in the University Council), but also in the recently published report by professor Aagje Swinnen who investigated the experiences of (all but) retired scientists, harsh words fell on the role of HR. Advisors are still more on the employer’s side than on the employees’ side.
Deputy director Nieke Guillory will temporarily take over Vugts’ tasks. By the way, the now former director is not named in the Executive Board’s statement.