A brief stroll down memory lane takes me back to a discussion, some 20 years ago, among a group of colleagues at my faculty. There we were, throwing ideas back and forth about a new set of criteria for research assessment. Not a trivial topic per se, because it was obviously by means of such criteria that precious research time was allotted to faculty members struggling under the weight of (too) many responsibilities. One colleague bided his time until the discussion was at a low ebb, and then remarked: “But what if we shift our focus from the individual to the group? So what if an individual member of the group doesn’t meet the exact target for publishing articles in peer-reviewed journals? That person can still be instrumental in ensuring the success of the group as a whole.” Or, in any case, words to that effect.
There are two things I remember about this. Firstly, that the general response to my colleague’s idea was decidedly – and disappointingly! – lukewarm. Secondly, that I was struck by how obviously right he was. I kicked myself for not having seen something that was so clearly plain as day before: We all have different strengths to contribute to academia, and there are worlds to be gained by bringing those individual strengths to full fruition and, if possible, harnessing them into collaborative efforts. I don’t mind admitting that my own forte at the time was teaching, not stringing together items on my publication list. Hence my frustration at seeing time and time again how brilliant and dedicated young teachers were not given contracts because they hadn’t used their scarce leisure hours to publish articles in peer-reviewed journals. Or at witnessing the appointment of brilliant researchers who then proceeded to make a mess of both their teaching and their administrative responsibilities. Or, to put a different slant on it, at seeing those same researchers wilt under the pressure of tasks and duties they were never cut out to do.
Yes, I left academia behind some years ago, and no, these are not sour grapes: I had a wonderful time at a great institution. Would I have gone looking for greener pastures if there had been room for everyone’s talent at my alma mater? Perhaps, but it hardly matters. What matters is how Recognition & Rewards is changing the landscape of Dutch academia, painting its own pastures a much brighter and more attractive shade of green.
Odin Dekkers worked at Radboud University Nijmegen as Professor of English Literature and Culture until 2019. Having held various positions in Higher Education, Odin has been Head of Curiosity-driven Research and Scientific Disciplines at the Social Sciences and Humanities Domain of the Dutch Research Council (NWO) since May 2023.