Council tears into Yantai time sheet investigation
A large number of RUG staff started preparations for a potential branch campus in Yantai, China, in 2015. The plans were cancelled in early 2018; the university council refused to consent to them.
The council was also worried about how much time and effort had actually gone into the prep work for the campus. The council members were told that some employees spent more time on the project than had officially been registered. That would mean the actual costs for Yantai were higher than originally intended and that, in spite of the minister of education explicitly forbidding it, tax funds had been spent on the project.
Online reporting centre
At the request of the Supervisory Council, Leendert Klaassen and research firm Ecorys investigated the time sheets. An online reporting centre was set up where staff could shed light on how many hours they had spent on ‘Yantai’, and Ecorys held in-depth interviews with people.
On Thursday, Klaassen presented their findings. He concludes that the university has certainly made mistakes in stating the number of Yantai hours. ‘They should have declared anywhere between 27 and 33 percent more than they actually did.’ According to Ecorys’ calculations, the university needs to make up for between 565 and 669 thousand euros.
President of the board of directors Jouke de Vries announced that they were planning to compensate for the full amount. ‘That means that we’ll take 669,000 euros of private funds and turn them into public funds. In doing so, we hope to end this prolonged discussion.’
Klaassen says the reason the hours were submitted incorrectly was that it wasn’t exactly clear how they were supposed to be submitted in the first place. Additionally, the project’s complexities had been underestimated. ‘But I don’t think the board of directors has acted in any reprehensible manner.’
Klaassen also concluded that the board did not pressure staff to suppress the number of hours worked on the project, and that their research or educational work did not suffer under the Yantai preparations.
The university council issued a scathing response. According to the staff delegates, the report is full of underestimations and miscalculations. ‘They assumed that staff members who were visiting the site in China only worked five hours a day’, says Casper Albers with the personnel faction.
He also says the percentage of unclaimed hours is incorrect: ‘The calculations are based on all the personnel costs, including people working on the project full time. But we’ve always been concerned with the employees who were involved in other work besides Yantai.’
If the calculations focus only on the latter group, the number of unclaimed hours is practically equal to the number of claimed ones. ‘Vice president Jan de Jeu called the investigation into the time sheets a witch hunt’, says Albers. ‘The fact that the number of hours claimed is exceeded by 100 percent proves that there are witches at the RUG.’
The majority of the students on the council also responded with criticism to the report. DAG, Lijst Calimero and the One Man Gang are all ‘surprised’ at Klaassen’s conclusions that the RUG board isn’t to blame. ‘They say no one pressured the employees, but the actual question is whether the staff was deliberately prevented from submitting the hours they worked’, says Henrieke Polinder with Calimero.
In 2016, the university switched from a system where employees entered their own hours to a system where the hours had already been filled in and all employees had to do was approve them. ‘Was that a veiled attempt to keep the costs low?’ Polinder wondered out loud. ‘The investigation doesn’t conclude one way or another, but it does say that it’s the reason too few hours were claimed.’
For that reason, the council is questioning Ecorys’ decision to only collect data from 2017 and use that data to make estimates concerning 2015 and 2016. ‘We feel the excesses were larger in those years’, says Albers – in part because the Faculty of Economics and Business was still involved in the project in 2016, but no longer in 2017. The investigation didn’t take this into account.
Both the staff and the students on the council blame the previous board of directors for ‘improper management’. ‘As far as we’re concerned, this should have consequences for them’, said Polinder. Albers: ‘We’re also wondering whether, or to which degree, the Supervisory Council did its job of monitoring the situation.’
Board president Jouke de Vries issued an emotional response to the criticism. ‘I want to take this university into the future, and instead all my energy is being spent on these protracted issues from the past’, he said. ‘We’re trying to account for these hours and I’m not objecting to that in and of itself, but we’ve spent altogether too much time on it. You’re using very serious terms, but nobody told us clearly what we were supposed to do.’
De Vries represented the board on his own during the presentation. Both Rector Magnificus Elmer Sterken and managing director Jan de Jeu were absent on account of a study trip.
SOG faction chair Gijs Verhoeff supported De Vries. ‘We have to wrap up this project’, he said. ‘Some of the council members are just too hot-headed, and I denounce that. It’s essential to be critical of things, but we’re kind of done with the deep-seated mistrust that permeates every discussion about this issue.’