The Neutral View


The early elimination of the Dutch national soccer team from the European Championship also had its positive effects. Apart from the fact that you’re no longer interrupted FROM LEFT during a conversation TO RIGHT by a Snollebollekes commercial, I can now follow the tournament as a Neutral Viewer.

With capital letters, because Neutral Viewers is also the title of a very enjoyable podcast. A neutral viewer tries to watch a game without being guided by an entrenched personal preference (*dances the lion’s dance*) or rancor (*curses in Spanish*), but simply wants to enjoy every facet of the game.

Watching the European Championship as a neutral viewer doesn’t mean that you can’t support a team during a game. On the contrary, it’s normal to root for the underdog or to hope that the Danish team wins. At the same time, you need to know how to appreciate the value of things and not, for example, simply disregard a spectacular free kick by Cristiano Ronaldo because you have a negative attitude towards the Portuguese team ever since the Battle of Nuremberg in 2006. In fact, you should put aside your own track record for a moment and ask yourself: was I entertained? Did I watch something enjoyable?

This neutral view is something we also desperately need at universities if we want to treat our personnel correctly. We need a Neutral Viewer who asks the following questions: who is important to this community? Who is in charge of operations at TU/e? The answers to these questions shouldn’t be based solely on our own experiences. Right now, everyone has to worm their way through the same tenure track gate as far as distribution of research and education is concerned, only to be awaited by gate keepers (an evaluation committee) who passed through that gate *in that same way* earlier. They will automatically focus more on factors that mattered when they studied for a doctorate.

The current system reminds me of my driving instructor more than anything else. He used to tell me, witch a Brabant accent, “I once managed to pass my driving test, so if you just drive like I do, you’ll pass your test as well!”

During an interview published last Tuesday, Frank Baaijens announced that TU/e wants to value other forms of excellence. People should be recognized and rewarded for things other than their H-index or the number of publications. It’s nice that Baaijens acknowledges how strange it is to assume that an academic should have to excel at everything. Many companies offer courses before someone can become a manager, but we expect an associate professor to teach, supervise, manage projects, apply for a grant and to carry out research.

I believe that we need to be a bit more naive if we want that system of appraisal to be successful. A neutral view from someone who’s not part of the TU/e community. A view from the sort of person who looks at me surprised during a party and asks: “So, you spend months writing a paper, send it to a publisher, don’t get paid anything, but pay the publisher to publish it? Right.”

I, for example, am very much in favor of education professors – and that we get a track for that. In the current situation, people who apply for a position as assistant professor usually need to have a long list of publications, only to spend most of their time teaching once they’re hired. If we can make sure that job requirements match the actual content of a job, I won’t have to worry any longer about discussing my work with neutral listeners at parties.

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