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ArtEZ Top Management Fired

This week the Supervisory Board of ArtEZ, Institute of the Arts announced it had sent home the Board of Governors, which runs the day-to-day affairs of the school.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 07-03-2013

The latest drama to hit Dutch design education speaks loudly of the times and how difficult the drive for excellence becomes under a conservative reign.

Differences of opinion between the Board of Governors and staff of ArtEZ on policy matters became “unbridgeable”, claims the school’s Supervisory Board.  According to them, management had to go.

No further explanation of these differences has been given, nor has there been an explanation of why it is the Board of Governors that is axed, and not complaining staff members.  We have tried to contact Gerrit Grotenhuis (Chairman of the Superviroy Board) as well as the Communication department, but so far nothing.

Last year a similar conflict led to the downfall of the head of the Design Academy Eindhoven, Anne Mieke Eggenkamp.  The issues at ArtEZ, however, at least from what we can glean, are less about content and the pursuit of a certain type of design education, and more about politics.

Dingeman Kuilman, chairman of the Board of Governors, calls the situation unbelievable.  “It is the stuff nightmares are made of,” he says.

Last week on his blog, Kuilman detailed quite specifically his view on the situation.

He writes that the situation he encountered at the institute when he arrived two years ago was very different from what he expected, and very different from the picture the Supervisory Board had painted when hiring him. He ran into the following major structural problems:
•    “Severe problems” in the management of and communication within the institute, which is scattered over five facilities in three different cities.
•    Costs of management and facilities were too high.
•    No common views or ambitions for the institute as a whole, and the culture in some parts of the institute, was “opaque”.
•    An especially dire situation in ArtEZ Enschede because of falling student numbers and a history of failed governance and weak management.**

Starting in February 2012 the Board of Governors worked on a plan for improvement titled “ArtEZ 2016”. The stated ambition was to be one of the top schools in Europe. The plan focussed on quality of education for students, simplifying the organizational structure and reducing the layers of management, cost cutting and increased efficiency. Also a graduate school with a Masters and Honours Programme would be established.

“The Supervisory Board has acted thoughtlessly in relieving the Board of Governors of its duties and has actually worsened the problem,” Kuilman writes.  “In February the Supervisory Board had three separate meetings with the Institute Council (14 members representing students and staff on a 50/50 basis), with all directors (11 – this number would be reduced to 8 according to ‘ArtEZ 2016’), and with all department heads.

“At the end of every meeting the Supervisory Board asked: do you still have trust in the Board of Governors? As this question was answered negatively the Board of Governors concluded there was an irreparable breach of confidence between both sides and that the current Board of Governors would be incapable of executing the necessary improvements. The actual arguments for this lack of confidence have not yet been transmitted to the Board of Governors.

“It is very careless.  Research into the situation should have been better executed before conclusions were drawn. Also, the Supervisory Board should have taken more time consulting the Board of Governors, so that all aspects of the current problems could have been better understood.

“In general I have to say that there is a trend in public institutions, and (art) academies in particular, for anti-authoritarian activism.   People are consciously shunning existing routes of consultation and instead are expressing their dissatisfaction, about restructuring for instance, directly to journalists and/or Supervisory Boards.

“In several cases this has been successful, as in for instance the Design Academy Eindhoven. There is a copycat culture of tactics though.  There have been anonymous attacks on heads of schools and complaints about a ‘culture of fear’. I can understand that in these uncertain economic and social times people have problems with changing work environments, but that should never be a reason to postpone necessary changes.

“Looking back I would have done some things differently. As the Board of Governors we should have started working on our improvement plan six months earlier and proceeded faster. Also our communication with management, staff and students should have been professionalised from an early stage.

"We have achieved several things at ArtEZ, like concentrating several programs (Fine Art, Classical Music) in just one location, starting a new, successful program (Creative Writing), and formulating a unified vision for the institute on its educational goals. But considering the current situation I do worry if the organisation can successfully provide a high quality education in the future.”

** NOTE: Severe irregularities have been discovered on the Enschede campus and higher authorities have been called in. That campus is now under special surveillance by the Ministry. IT is emphasized by all concerned that these problems all predate Kuilman’s arrival.

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