Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) is assigning an external scientific integrity committee to investigate relationships with companies. This was decided as a result of the report that appeared on Tuesday from the sustainability think-tank Changerism, regarding the connections between the faculty and fossil fuel companies.

The faculty is also establishing a public register documenting all relationships with the business world. Cooperative agreements with corporate partners will also be examined. Although RSM does not agree with Changerism’s conclusions and considers the accusations regarding the lack of scientific integrity unfounded, dean Steef van de Velde considers it necessary to undertake these three follow-up actions.

Scientific integrity

RSM-decaan Steef van de Velde

“We have nothing to hide. Our scientific integrity is of the highest level,” said Van der Velde by telephone. “Of course, we can say this ourselves, but it is better if external experts say this. That is why I have asked the Executive Board to appoint an external independent committee to investigate the scientific integrity in our relationships with the business world.”

This committee is charged with investigating the connections with external parties across the faculty. The exact assignment and the composition of the committee will be determined soon. “You should view the investigation as follows: It concerns the relationships that we maintain with the business world, but also with civil society and the government. We would like to know whether these relationships can withstand the test of scientific integrity and whether we have designed our procedures in such a way that we minimise the risks.”

Register of connections with companies

As RSM announced in an initial response to the Changerism research, the faculty intends to construct a public register that includes all connections with the private sector. It is the intention that the register will make all cooperation with the business world accessible for everyone. This does not only include contract research, but also research that uses company data, guest lectures by external parties, and student theses and internships, summarised Van de Velde. “The register should not only state which company is involved, but also the nature of the relationship, and any financial transactions.

Such a register cannot be realised quickly,” said Van de Velde. “Getting this done is a huge job. We still need to consider the design, data collection and how to make this accessible. We have very many relationships with the business world. We need to be able to make an inventory of all of these. I expect that we will need a structural appointment of two or three people for this.”

‘Unfortunate phrasing’

The cooperative agreements will also be reviewed, explained Van de Velde. In the cooperative agreement between Shell and RSM one of the goals is stated as ‘for Shell to potentially influence the design of the RSM curriculum and the profile of students who attend the BSc/MSc/MBA programmes’. This is an extremely unfortunate turn of phrase, said Van de Velde: “Of course we need to amend this. We will be taking a critical look at all these cooperative agreements. It is really not the case that a company can have direct influence on the curriculum. We are, however, in consultation with parties to ensure that our curriculum stays relevant. This concerns the kinds of business skills a student needs to have in order to be successful on the labour market. It would be much better if such an agreement stated that Shell, for example, helps us reflect on the value of our curriculum.”