“In the case of RSM, Erasmus University took the appropriate actions by conducting an independent investigation following a Changerism report on RSM’s ties to the fossil fuel industry, and by then adopting all the recommendations made in the report,” Van Engelshoven stated in a letter to the Lower House. According to the Minister, the university ‘has demonstrated in this way that it is capable of self-purification’.
The previous Minister for Education, Jet Bussemaker, wished to await the Mols Committee’s findings before addressing the allegations. If the report did not result in any clear conclusions, Bussemaker said she would ask the Inspectorate of Education to intervene. For her part, Van Engelshoven feels this is unnecessary. “The Inspectorate is of the opinion that the Committee has performed a solid investigation, and deems an additional investigation of its own unnecessary at present.”
The Minister did emphasise that Dutch universities’ freedom to decide for themselves what kinds of studies they will carry out, what they will teach their students and with whom they wish to collaborate comes with certain responsibilities. “It is essential that universities, having been granted academic freedom, act responsibly in terms of providing critical and independent teaching. Furthermore, it is essential that the principles of academic integrity be honoured.”
Affecting the curriculum
The Mols Committee conducted its investigation following the publication of a report by sustainability think tank Changerism. In this report, Changerism showed that there are all sorts of extensive partnerships between RSM and the fossil fuel industry. For instance, Shell paid €300,000 for a study on the Netherlands’ attractiveness to multinational corporations, which payment was not mentioned in the study report. One of the authors of the report is currently being investigated by the Academic Integrity Committee. In addition, RSM concluded contracts with Shell and ING that contained provisions to the effect that these companies have the right to affect the curriculum offered by the school.
These conclusions were supported by investigative journalists affiliated with Follow The Money, who moreover stated that there were ties between Shell and the professor who conducted the study on the Netherlands’ attractiveness to companies seeking to establish their headquarters in the Netherlands.
The Mols Committee, an external investigative committee led by Gerard Mols, a former Rector Magnificus of Maastricht University, investigated RSM’s contracts and procedures, but found no evidence that companies directly affected the school’s curriculum. However, it did find that there were ‘highly unfortunate provisions’ in contracts with two companies, which might enable said companies to affect the curriculum, and which might grant the companies access to students’ profiles and CVs.
The Committee indicated that it was more concerned about academic integrity: academics do not always list their side jobs like they are supposed to until after the fact, and there is some uncertainty as to the status of consultancy activities and the faculty’s organisational structure. The Committee pointed out that the rules and procedures that are supposed to safeguard academic integrity also apply to privatised components of the university.
Not in-depth enough
PhD student Vatan Hüzeir, the author of the Changerism report that prompted the investigation of RSM, told Erasmus Magazine last week that RSM is downplaying the risks and that he hoped the Minister for Education would do something about it.
Hüzeir feels that the Mols Committee did not dig deep enough. “One of the things we demonstrated last year was that RSM conducted a study whose conclusions were supposed to increase public support for gas, even though people in Groningen were increasingly objecting to the extraction of gas. The study was paid for by Shell and NAM, among other parties. This is a very clear example of companies exerting their influence on research projects.”