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Minister Dijkgraaf says he is ‘concerned’ about the fact that at some universities, the endowed professors (appointed and frequently funded) by external parties outnumber the regular professors. This puts ‘conducting unbiased research and offering neutral scientific education’ at risk, he feels. The minister wishes to discuss the matter with the universities.
Professors with ancillary activities and external funding caused a stir recently. Dijkgraaf was ‘shocked’ by a recent item in Nieuwsuur, revealing that Leiden University’s professor Rex Arendsen is funded by the tax authorities while he studies tax laws. The minister calls the lack of transparency ‘improper’. Leiden University failed to disclose that the tax authorities fund this professorship.
Such an (apparent) conflict of interests occurs more frequently, as is revealed in a Folia article on the alleged influence Zuidas offices have on publications by the UvA fiscal law department.
The ‘sponsored professors’ – of which WUR currently has fifty, while there are 170 professors that are paid through regular funding from the ministry – did not go unnoticed in the Second Chamber. The chamber demanded to know whether the minister could apply sanctions for transgressions. The minister replied that the ministry does not have this option. Complaints concerning scientific integrity must be lodged with the Committee for Scientific Integrity.
But the minister also warned that ‘if self-regulation fails and no improvements are made. I will not hesitate to include guarantees for scientific integrity in legislation.’ He will send the university boards a letter to ‘remind them’ of their responsibility for scientific integrity.
A central public registry of professors’ ancillary activities could be created. The minister is discussing the issue with the Dutch universities. Previous attempts to create such a registry failed.