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In-depth interviews held at WdKA: Student wellbeing starts with staff wellbeing

08 March 2023

In recent months, in-depth interviews were conducted at WdKA to better interpret the indications of social insecurity. The report shows that the main causes can be traced to the complex organisational structure and business processes. No systematic problems of transgressive behaviour or discrimination were identified. The Executive Board takes the findings of the report very seriously. Based on the recommendations, the academy has been asked to develop a change plan.

Willem de Kooning Academy (WdKA) is recognised nationally and internationally as a leading art institution. Both staff and students speak highly of the content and innovative nature of the teaching. The academy employs inspired teachers for inspired students. 

Nevertheless, the 2021 Safety Survey revealed that the overall safety score at WdKA is significantly lower than at most other RUAS study programmes. In addition, the 2022 Work Experience Survey revealed that while the majority of staff (70%) is (very) satisfied with working for the academy, 12% of employees are (very) dissatisfied.

These two findings prompted the Board to ask the WdKA management to draw up an improvement plan.

In addition, the Board commissioned an external, independent analysis to better understand the causes of persistent evidence of perceived social insecurity.

In late 2022, this analysis took the form of in-depth interviews conducted with staff and students from various departments within the Academy. The interviews were conducted by Ingrid van Engelshoven and Peggy Wijntuin. They presented their findings to the board early February 2023.

In-depth interview findings

A consistent theme emerged from the interviews that were held. The common denominators of perceived social insecurity are mainly related to the aftermath of the pandemic and a complex organisational structure. There is a lack of transparency, uncertainty in human resource management, and a lack of clear communication. Management is perceived as less accessible and less visible, leading to a sense of distance and mistrust.

It is important to note that the investigation did not establish systematic problems with (sexually) transgressive behaviour or discrimination. The results of the in-depth interviews are broadly in line with the findings of the 2022 Work Experience Survey and the 2021 Safety Survey. Over the past year, WdKA has already initiated a number of improvement measures, but these have not yet produced sufficient results in the areas concerned.

The Executive Board’s response to the report

The Executive Board takes the findings of the report very seriously and adopts all the recommendations in full. They conclude that there is a serious organisational problem to be resolved at the Academy. The problems require a focused approach.

The report is consistent with the findings of the above-mentioned studies and the recommendations are in line with the improvement actions already initiated by the WdKA management last year. However, these measures have not yet sufficiently improved the sense of security at the Academy.

The board has therefore asked the WdKA management to initiate an open dialogue at the Academy about the research report and to develop a change plan based on it. The board members will also initiate their own dialogue with WdKA staff on the research report. In addition, the Executive Board will make sure an additional member will be added to the academy’s management team to support them in this process for the time being. A coaching process is now underway to strengthen communication between WdKA management and the WdKA community. Ultimately, it is the shared responsibility of the entire Academy to create a safe working and learning environment. It is important to note that despite the report's findings, the Academy has achieved great things. The satisfaction rate among the vast majority of staff and students is high on average.

WdKA management and the position of the director

Jeroen Chabot has indicated that he is keen to take up the challenge with his MT to make the necessary improvements. He is optimistic te be able to write an approach plan in the near future based on open dialogue with the academy community. At the same time, he has indicated that the healing process will take some time. He has been director of the academy for over twelve years and is of the opinion that the WdKA should be in the hands of new leadership. The Board has respectfully noted his decision.  As soon as a successor is found, he will step down from his position. The Board has asked Jeroen to take on a coordinating role in the implementation of the new Strategic Agenda. The board is more than grateful to Jeroen for his contribution to arts education and the way he has put the WdKA on the map in recent years.