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New trouble at the School of Governance

Relations at managerial level at the Maastricht School of Governance are on edge again as dean Peter de Gijsel has decided to quit. Professor De Gijsel was appointed a year ago to straighten things out at the school. The dean of the faculty (FHS) that controls the School of Governance, professor Louis Boon, washed his hands of the school after conflicts with De Gijsel in April this year. Boon: “We have lost a year.”

The Executive Board did not announce the news of the dean’s departure until this week, but the decision was already taken in July, says De Gijsel. The difference in opinion concerns the way in which and the time when the school should meet its financial obligations to the UM. De Gijsel: “The school received loans from the UM during its first few years, which must clearly be paid back at some stage. But it would jeopardise the school's existence if we were to make anymore cutbacks than we already have. That is what the Executive Board wants and I cannot take responsibility for that.”

The School of Governance was founded in 2004 as an interdisciplinary UM institute with the aim of promoting ‘good governance’ in the world by offering academic programmes in the field of policy-making and public administration. In the years that followed, the school grew but so did the criticism of director Chris de Neubourg’s financial policy: money was said to have been squandered. Rising shortages amounting to millions of euros prompted the Executive Board to dismiss the school's management at the end of 2008 and appoint an interim manager who could prepare a new start. The Executive Board decided not to close the school, as was suggested by various parties within the UM. Professor De Gijsel was appointed to straighten out the school's finances by introducing serious economy measures. Too serious, he now admits: “The savings were much greater than necessary, but I did agree to them. But to cut back even more is impossible.” The Executive Board not only wanted a balanced budget, but also wanted repayment of the loans (to the amount of some 8 million euros) to start as quickly as possible, something De Gijsel was very much against. To implement his strategic programme and to enable the school to grow from 80 to approximately 150 master's students a year - an objective that the Executive Board supported - investments in new members of staff would have to be made, he judged. He had hoped to raise the money for that purpose through promotion premiums that would be gained in the coming years. As soon as there were surpluses, which might be the case in 2016, De Gijsel was prepared to use these for the repayments, albeit in a such a way that half of the surpluses each year would remain in the school for further investments. The Executive Board, however, imposed an ‘obligation to perform to the best of one’s ability’ (rector Gerard Mols: “So not an obligation to render results”) to repay one quarter of a million each year from 2016, regardless of surpluses. In addition, a part of the debt would be waived. De Gijsel: “That is indeed lenient, but I do not think that you can ask the school to make more cutbacks after this tough period. I, at any rate, will not do so, hence I felt that I should resign.”

Rector Mols: “We were exceptionally accommodating but if he says that he cannot take the responsibility for that, well, then to my mind we are done and go our separate ways. We are now looking for a successor.”

 

School of Governance: breach between Boon and De Gijsel could not be mended

 

If there is anyone who is not sorry to see De Gijsel go as dean of the School of Governance, it is professor Louis Boon, dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Sciences, the faculty that controls the school. Last April, Boon threw in the towel: the relationship with De Gijsel was so bad that he no longer wished to take administrative responsibility for the School of Governance. The Executive Board then appointed former FHML dean Harry Hillen as ‘deputy commissioner’ to fill the vacancy.

Why did Boon quit? “Because it was not an easy task to get a grip on the school's finances and programmes. Decisive action was impossible, or I would have done that. And when De Gijsel arranged a faculty council meeting behind my back in order to fix an appointment quickly, the limit had been reached.”

De Gijsel sighs on the telephone: “Do I now have to contradict everything that Boon has said? I did nothing behind his back, it was the chairman of the council who took the decision, not me.”

Differences of opinion between the two men date back to the very beginning. Where Boon held the previous dean, Chris de Neubourg, responsible for the financial mismanagement and wanted to put him on the sidelines, De Gijsel supported the Executive Board’s plan to keep De Neubourg on at the school, in a position that he thought of as academic director. This is what was done. When the Executive Board subsequently sent out a press release announcing the arrival of De Gijsel without mentioning the name of the founding father Chris de Neubourg, De Gijsel openly expressed his surprise in Observant. Boon: “We spent two days discussing the press release, also with him, so he shouldn't have done something like this. For me, things could not be fixed anymore. Still, I held out with him for six months.”

According to Boon, De Gijsel often threatened to resign: “He often said: ‘if you don’t do this, I will quit’. I feel you can only say something like that once. Other than that, he did as he pleased.” The real interventions at the school, says Boon, were carried out by his faculty director Pascal Breuls. “He did not have a very nice time there. He had to break the excessive spending pattern. During the Friday seminar, for example, spending 300 euros on rolls at the Deli Belge. Bring your own lunch, Pascal said. Well, rebellion of course. And there was a professional kitchen in the building, collaboration with Michelin star restaurant Beluga, the furniture was twice to three times more expensive than elsewhere in the UM. Impossible to get a grip on.”

Of course, De Gijsel sees things differently: “Boon gave me hardly any room to move. The former management was dumped, something one should never do if one wants to promote continuity, and he saw me as a confidant of Chris de Neubourg. I did not get a managing director, but Pascal Breuls was placed with me; that created a lot of ill feelings in the school. He received a constant stream of information from Pascal. Anyway, I took all decisions together with Pascal.”

An important point concerns the embedding of the school in the university, which had been the idea from the very beginning, but was never completed, according to Boon. He blames De Gijsel for having made hardly any contact with the rest of the UM about the programme. “This is why they remained just as isolated as they were under De Neubourg, who also preferred people from outside. But this embedding in the UM is important. That is why I wanted a board for the school consisting of colleagues, with representative from the faculties, but De Gijsel insisted on a one-man board.”

De Gijsel also denies these allegations. “The Executive Board decided there should be a one-man board, not me.” Both in the master's and the PhD programmes, we work closely together with the faculties, he argues. “This has even led to a very positive audit of our master's programme just before the summer. As far as administrative co-operation is concerned, there were several reasons why I did not move on this more. The atmosphere among the deans was hostile towards the school, they wanted the financial problems solved first. That is what I concentrated on. Furthermore I needed time to become familiar with the complex situation, and I was also appointed part-time dean of the Maastricht School of Management, which is scheduled to be taken over in due course.”

It is becoming monotonous: Boon has his objections against this as well: “With this strategic alliance with MSM, De Gijsel became even more evasive. And what has come out? I have not seen any vision. It was all so poor, it made me very impatient. It was a shambles. That is why I am glad that a clean sweep has been made. De Neubourg is going to Florence, De Gijsel is gone, now we can get on with things.”

Finally, De Gijsel: “Well, ‘gone’ is not the right word, I am still a part-time professor at the school, and as dean of MSM, I will have to work out the co-operation with the School of Governance. So ‘gone’ is out of the question.”

 

 

Wammes Bos

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