DUB panel about the UU official car: ‘Could we do a little less?’

Foto: DUB

GroenLinks congressman Zihni Özdil recently asked questions in Parliament about Anton Pijpers’ declarations. He calculated that the domestic travel costs of the university’s president came down to around 476 euros per working day. Other universities’ presidents had much lower travel costs: most stay below 25,000 euros a year. The University of Amsterdam president declared the lowest amoung (4,256 euros) and the president of the University of Twente declared the highest – after Pijpers that is (56,809 euros).

The UU is aware that Pijpers’ travel costs are high compared to those of other university presidents. This is because the UU Executive Board members are allowed to use an official car. Last year, the university still had two of these. The costs for these cars (including the two chauffeurs’ salaries) are listed mostly on Pijpers’ name in the declaration overview, because he’s the one who uses the official car most often, including for his commute to and from his home in Zutphen. The university expects the travel costs to decrease because Pijpers is moving to Utrecht this year.

Nevertheless, inside and outside the UU, the discussion has flared up about whether university board members really need an official car. Pijpers himself said an official car is ‘a condition for being able to do his job properly, timely, and in confidence’. He can use his travel time for work, and have confidential phone conversations without having to pay attention to traffic, for example. The staff members of the University council support him in this. The student members, however, see things differently. They feel it’s inexplicable to spend so much money on transportation, while there’s a scarcity of funds elsewhere within the university. Council party Lijst Vuur called for a maximum declaration amount of 40,000 euros.

The argument for our DUB panel members is therefore: The president of the Executive Board of Utrecht University needs an official car and driver to be able to do his job well.

Casper Hulshof, lecturer-researcher at the department of Education
“No, of course not. Every employee likes to do their job ‘well, timely, and in confidence’, and they generally make do without a car and chauffeur. You can wonder whether a university board member is comparable to the CEO of a company, and that that’s why having an official car is defensible. In terms of financing, I think a company is a different type of organisation than a university. And if the presidents of other universities make do without cars, why wouldn’t Pijpers be able to do the same?”

“The University Council should try and dare to let themselves be heard more. They did the same when the issue was brought up in 1986.” Back then, the University Council decided that university funds could no longer be used for ‘regular commute by official car’. The University Council didn’t want the UU to pay for the president’s trips between his home in Voorschoten and the university. The Executive Board wanted the government to overturn the decision, because the minister had promised use of an official car as a condition of employment when the president was appointed.

In 1987, minister Deetman decided to indeed overturn the University Council decision. He stated that the University council was, ‘in general’, allowed to make decisions about the spending of university funds. The costs of the commute by official car, however, fall under ‘further details’ of a budget point, which, the minister said, was the responsibility of the Executive Board.

Frank van Rijnsoever, assistant professor of innovation sciences and University Council member
“Board members have had official cars and chauffeurs for ages. I can’t judge whether this is really vital, but I think it’s defensible. The president makes long hours, and works very hard. His work day starts at 7 in the morning when he gets into the official car, and ends when he’s back home at 8 in the evening.”

“When he travels by official car, he can still work, prepare meetings, read reports, etcetera. The president also regularly has to travel outside of Utrecht. An official car allows him to make effective use of that travel time as well. There’s also an element of safety involved. I don’t want to think about a fatigued board member crashing into a tree at the end of the day.”

“I do think it’s a good thing the president is moving to Utrecht. That’ll greatly diminish the costs. Still, even then, a car with a chauffeur can be convenient, and I wouldn’t mind if it remains in use, if soberly and efficiently.”

Henk van Rinsum, Board secretary of the Faculty of Social Sciences
“Decide on commute regulations that apply to everyone. I care less about what these should look like. But at this moment, every UU employee receives travel reimbursement of 6 cents per kilometre, up to a maximum of 25 cents one-way. That reimbursement is in no way linked to how hard someone works. It seems like a good rule to apply to everyone, so let’s just implement that!”

“Of course I can imagine that it’s convenient for the president to travel by car if he has to be present at, for instance, meetings at the ministry. This way he doesn’t lose a lot of time by travelling by public transportation. Public transportation isn’t all that great anyway. But it doesn’t seem like a huge problem to declare work-related taxi costs every now and then.”

Mies van Steenbergen, Research Analyst at Pharmaceutical Sciences
“To me the question of whether Anton Pijpers needs an official car with chauffeur isn’t that relevant. A more important question is, I think, why the president of the board gets full reimbursement of all his travel costs, while the rest of the employees only receive a maximum of 6 cents per kilometre. In a fulltime position, that’s around 53 euros a month. I’m a big proponent of having rules that apply to everyone. There are a lot more people here who have to have confidential conversations with people.”

Annemieke Hoogenboom, teacher and researcher old fine art and faculty council member for Humanities
“Perhaps we should establish a maximum for travel costs. That can motivate people to move closer to their place of work. I’m also in favour of discouraging car use anyway, for sustainability’s sake. In the city centre, the municipality is already doing this. None of my colleagues take the car to work. It’s odd to me to see all those cheap parking options at De Uithof.”

“However, I can imagine that for a job like university president, you travel around a lot. And that a car with chauffeur (a moving work place) might be cheaper than the costs of the travel time someone would make when travelling by public transportation or own car (= non-working hours). It’s definitely safer than driving yourself.”

Ashely van Driel, student of Dutch and member of co-determination party UuinActie
“It’s absurd that these types of travel costs are rationalised, while research and education are suffering so much. An amount of 124,000 euros may not seem like a lot, but it’s more than what University College Utrecht is investing in student advance funds. With 124,000 euros, the UU could support the boards of student associations with three hundred subsidies.”

“Even if this type of behaviour is technically allowed, it doesn’t mean it’s appropriate. This behaviour is scandalous! It’s up to the board to act responsibly, with solidarity and integrity. These funds should benefit education and research. The board’s stance on this just makes it worse. Anton Pijpers keeps defending his behaviour and says the costs are justifiable.”

“Then, the council member who called attention to this behaviour, is mouthed off and called a dissident. The others in the council abandon him, and suck up more to the board. This is not a critical co-determination. This is not a council that checks the board. In contrast with the current University council, I do expect Anton Pijpers to apologise.”

Leonie Schiphorst, student Educational Science
“I think it’s bizarre that on the declared receipts of the travel costs, all kinds of destinations were whited out. We can’t even see whether they truly concern work-related trips. I’m curious about the Supervisory Board’s argument for authorising Anton Pijpers’ declarations anyway. I agree with Member of Parliament Zihni Özdil that if this is not all expedient declaration, every penny should be returned to benefit students. We as students are up to our eyes in debt, after all, because our president is living like a king in France. On top of that, there’s financial scarcity in other areas of the university. Our president should have a special heart for the university and its students.”

“Furthermore, I agree with the two demands made by University Council member Floris Boudens of Lijst Vuur: full transparency about the costs that were made and a maximum declaration of 40,000 euros for board members. That seems realistic given the travel declarations of the other members of the Executive Board. With this maximum, a lease car with chauffeur won’t be possible, but I can imagine he’d prefer not to do his work on the train. Pijpers mentioned that he works while he travels and that he also makes confidential phone calls while on the road. It would make sense, then, to move from his current home in Zutphen to Utrecht, which would further lower the cost.”

Miranda Janssen, director of operations of the department Social Sciences of the Social Sciences faculty
“Whether it’s really ‘necessary’ to have a car with chauffeur, I can’t say. My guess is that a job as president of the board really is a lot more than just a fulltime job. Perhaps it’s more like a way of life. I suspect there aren’t many employees who put in as many hours as the board members do, and that many really wouldn’t want to switch places with them. If you can turn travel time into work time this way, that would definitely save some hours. It’s as simple as that.”

“Compare it to a minister’s job. They all have cars with chauffeurs. The UU is the biggest ‘company’ in the province. We like seeing it run well, so we have to facilitate this – and that costs money.”

“However, it is quite a lot of money that was spent. Couldn’t that be a little less? With for instance a student pool of chauffeurs who drive a cheaper car? Would be a nice job on the side for students, and it would even connect the president to the work floor.”

On Tuesday, May 21, the University Council will hold a debate about the travel costs with the Executive Board and the Supervisory Board. Among other things, the suggestion of establishing a maximum will be discussed.