Update 3: Collaborating in a complex, shifting and conflicted world

24 mei 2024

As academics rooted in society, we need a strong, personally motivated moral and ethical compass. This is not something an Executive Board pushes upon researchers or teachers or employees. Rather, it is an intrinsic motivation to do right that drives us, as a community. This compass is also, and maybe even especially, needed when it involves collaboration with others outside the WUR community in an increasingly complex, shifting and conflicted world.

Individual academic freedom

The past few weeks, we have heard a call for a clear moral and ethical stance aimed at collaborations with Israeli institutions. A call for maybe even a framework that would distinguish partners that we would want to collaborate with, from partners that we want to exclude. Although such an institutional policy could possibly provide some form of supposed clarity, it would come at a great cost: a move towards a slow but steady reduction of the individual academic freedom. A freedom that is at the core of our institution.

Principles of collaboration

Another, more sustainable way to proceed is to equip students and staff with the tools and help structures to form and follow their own moral and ethical compass. At WUR, when we collaborate in projects with other knowledge institutes, we do so based on our Principles of Collaboration. While these Principles of Collaboration offer guidance, we have learned from intensive interactions with students and staff over the past weeks that individuals, and WUR the community, still face significant challenges to apply these principles.

Prioritise creating awareness

We realise that we must prioritise creating awareness on the value and the content of our Principles for Collaborations, and if needed further develop and enhance them based on real life experiences. We can only work on this when we involve our researchers, teachers, other staff and students to incorporate their experiences and perspectives.

Last week, we announced that we will explore how to

  • Further embed our principles in standing procedures and training for academics and in education on the ability to learn and work with others outside one’s own scientific domain, institute, culture, or context
  • Provide tools and more proactively support for applying these principles such as supplying online support and extending helpdesk capacity
  • Address the additional challenge of how to apply these principles in conflict areas, and how to act on changing circumstances
  • Strengthen the procedures as described, e.g. by adding intermediate review as situation in project changes

We will do this using our approach of “Let’s Explore“ to address and engage students and staff on these topics starting in June and will meet to discuss progress with the participatory bodies in the WUR Council before the summer.