too many gifted professors threaten independence

News | Editors

July 13, 2022 † Minister Dijkgraaf wants an independent study of whether the Code of Conduct for Scientific Integrity is sufficient to guarantee the independence of research conducted by gifted professors. Dijkgraaf finds it worrying that some faculties have more special professors than ordinary professors. This makes independent practice in research and education vulnerable, he writes in response to parliamentary questions.

Photo: Sebastian ter Burg (CC BY 2.0)

“Again, universities and scientists are not transparent about their lenders. Professors from the universities of Rotterdam, Tilburg and Amsterdam (VU) were funded for their scientific work by the tax authorities and audit firms, while this was not mentioned anywhere,” Nieuwsuur recently opened in the article ‘A professor’s gift’ was the reason why MPs Jasper van Dijk and Peter Kwint (both SP) asked parliamentary questions to Minister Dijkgraaf.

Seven professors by special appointment funded by Finance

In his answers (pdf), the Minister gives a list of seven chairs, which are currently financed by the Ministry of Finance. These chairs, which are sometimes spread over several universities, are housed at Leiden University, Tilburg University, Nyenrode, VU, Maastricht University and Utrecht University. According to Dijkgraaf, this information is public, but there should be no misunderstandings about the organization that pays these professors. It is the ministry, not the university.

The minister has promised MP Pieter Omtzigt, who previously asked parliamentary questions in response to the Nieuwsuur article, to make a list with the UNL of all gifted chairs funded directly or indirectly by public funds.

The responsibility for gifted professors lies with the universities

The Minister is not of the opinion that the construction of a gifted chair means that the interests of the Ministry (or another organization that finances a chair) are positively included in a scientific publication. According to him, the executive board only allows an external organization to set up a gifted chair if that organization guarantees academic freedom and the candidate in question meets the requirements of a professor. “On the basis of WHW, the Executive Board must revoke the authorization if the considerations of the academic education are no longer compatible with this declaration. Failure to conduct scientific research independently, which is intertwined with education, is an example of this, “he writes.

The university, which does not pay, must therefore decide. The gifted professor and animal chair are not paid for by the university, but it is the university that must monitor the scientific integrity. In these cases, for example, it is up to the university to check whether a gifted professor is transparent about external funding.

There is no legal basis for an intervention by an independent third party such as the Danish Education Authority, the minister wrote. Anyone who suspects that a gifted professor is not complying with the Code of Conduct for Scientific Integrity should contact the Scientific Integrity Committee (CWI) of the relevant institution. If you are dissatisfied with the work of the CWI, you can still contact the National Body for Scientific Integrity (LOWI).

Independent research in code of conduct

Dijkgraaf does not want to agree with the statement that it would be good if gifted professors were hired at the university. “The value of the gifted chair should not be discarded in advance,” he writes. He finds it worrying that some faculties have more special professors than ordinary professors; which makes the independence of research and education vulnerable. He wants to discuss this with the sector.

It will not be the only conversation. The Code of Conduct for Scientific Integrity will also be discussed with the umbrella organizations, KNAW, NWO and the TO2 Association. “It is important to get a picture of the effectiveness, enforcement and compliance with standards and duties of care with regard to independence and transparency,” writes Dijkgraaf. Therefore, he wants to have these standards evaluated by an independent committee, an intention that he has announced earlier. “Depending on the results of the evaluation, I will consider whether legal anchoring is necessary,” he concludes.

Leave a Comment