Professors with ancillary positions and external financing have been causing a stir recently. Dijkgraaf was ‘shocked’ by the report on Nieuwsuur that the chair of endowed professor Rex Arendsen at Leiden University is paid by the Tax Authorities, although he does research into tax law.
Such real or perceived conflicts of interest occur more often. At the University of Amsterdam, many professors of tax law also work for a legal firm or tax consultancy, according to information from Folia. And research by Nieuwsuur revealed that in the tax law department at Erasmus University various chairs are externally financed, without this being clear to the outside world.
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This did not go unnoticed in the House of Representatives, and questions followed from the SP and Pieter Omtzigt. From the Minister’s answers, it appears that the Ministry of Finance, including the Tax Authorities, currently finances seven chairs. This happens at Leiden University, Tilburg University, Maastricht University, VU University Amsterdam, Utrecht University and Nyenrode Business University.
It is possible that a central and public register will be introduced in which the ancillary activities of professors are listed. The Minister is currently discussing this with Universities of the Netherlands. Incidentally, previous attempts to create such a register failed.
Dijkgraaf says that it is ‘worrisome’ that some faculties appoint more endowed professors (who are appointed and often paid by an external party) than ordinary professors.
That makes ‘conducting independent scientific research and providing independent academic education in the faculties vulnerable,’ he says. The Minister wishes to discuss this with universities.
According to Dijkgraaf, it is ‘wrong’ that Leiden University had not been open about the financing of the chair by the Tax Authorities. The Minister is writing to the university executive to ‘draw attention’ to their responsibility for transparency.
Couldn’t the Minister impose sanctions if things do go wrong, the House wants to know. The Ministry does not have that option, was his answer. As yet, complaints about scientific integrity should be submitted to the Committee for Scientific Integrity.
But if ‘proper self-regulation does not work and no improvement is in sight, I will not hesitate to enshrine safeguards relating to scientific integrity in law,’ he warns.