Monday, 3 July 2023

Understanding Your Own Position

This week concludes the lenghty saga of the dismissal of Ranti Tjan as the facility director of the KABK, an art academy in the Hague.
At the heart of this story lay a conflict between Tjan and his supervisors that was presented by news outlets such as NRC, de Volkskrant and Metropolis M as Tjan being punished for his opinion that the executive board of the overarching Hogeschool der Kunsten Den Haag ought to consist of more than one person.
This seems like a solid standpoint and it understandably gave Tjan a great deal of support from the media and the public, but this viewpoint is in fact a gross misunderstanding of the situation.
So let me explain briefly why Tjan's position makes it impossible for him to perform his duties as facility director and why he was rightly relieved from his position.

For this we first need to understand a bit about the school's recent history.
From 2014 to 2021 Marieke Schoenmakers fulfilled the directorship role at the KABK. During this time the facility directors of the KABK and the Royal Conservatory were also the only two members of the executive board for both institutions. This in effect meant that they were supervising themselves, as the principal task of a facility director is the daily managment of an organisation, while the executive board is tasked with monitoring the facility director and managing larger institutional concerns. This is nevertheless a common situation with a few advantages, but also brings with it considerable risks of mismanangement. Indeed, there were many abuses under the tenure of Schoenmakers that can partially be attributed to the fact that she supervising herself during that time.

So towards the end of 2021, the supervisory board of the Hogeschool der Kunsten set out to rectify this situation, by appointing a new facility director of the KABK and installing a seperate person to function as the executive board. They expressed their intentions and described their proposed governance structure in the following document published in december 2021:
It is worth noting that an executive board with a maximum of three members is mentioned as a distinct possibility and it is also noted that 'an executive board usually consists of two or three members'. The supervisory board is therefore not fundamentally dismissing the possibility of an executive board consisting of more than one person.

A few months later Ranti Tjan was appointed facility director at the KABK and a short while after that Huug de Deugd was appointed as the sole member of the executive board.
Quickly after that Tjan expressed his dissatisfaction with the organisational structure, even though it could and should have been known to him that this structure was explicitly chosen to increase the accountability of the facility director. In various media Tjan is described as saying that he wished to expand the executive board from one person to three people, as an executive board with a single member is in conflict with the 'diverse and inclusive direction of the KABK'. What all of these media left out is the simple fact that what Tjan actually suggested, and kept on suggesting even during the court case, is not a general expansion of the executive board, but a specific composition of the executive board, where he and the director of the conservatory would be the other two board members next to de Deugd. This of course essentially brings back all power into the hands of Tjan and the other facility director, inherently returning to the previous and unwanted situation whereby the facility directors can freely make decisions that go unchecked for a long time.

At best this can be seen as a fundamental misunderstanding on Tjan's part about his own job description that was, or should have been, known to him from before his appointment. At worst this can be interpreted as a blatant attempt at gaining more autonomous power by employing political pressure on his supervisors.
Simply put, by proposing his own inclusion in the executive board, Tjan wished to re-instate an unwanted situation that the supervisory board explicitly sought to correct with the current structure. That Tjan has claimed he 'hasn't been presented with an argument why a three headed executive board would be impossible', is thus nothing but an obvious indication of his own lack of understanding of his role within that structure. If a facility director is unclear about what aspects of the organisation he has decision power over and, rather than informing himself, he seeks to gain political traction through the media, then he is indisputably unfit for such a position.
It is therefore no wonder that a court has held the same view and ordered the dismissal of Tjan, despite the misguided public outcry at the situation.