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Rector: skepticism about UU's approach toward misconduct not justified

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No, the Executive Board does not hesitate to combat inappropriate behaviour, guaranteed rector Henk Kummeling in a meeting of the University Council, reacting to messages on social media and a petition urging the university to take action fast. “We must get rid of that mistrust", he said.

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The online petition is an initiative of the employees of the Ethics Institute, where a professor was forced to resign last year after being reported for inappropriate behaviour. This incident generated a lot of discussion about the procedure to complain about misconduct and sexual harassment.

Almost 900 people have signed the petition, which demands the Executive Board to "not wait any longer" to adopt the recommendations of a taskforce comprised of students and alumni. A few members of the University Council are also part of the group, which aims to put an end to a "culture of silence" around sexual harassment in the university. The proposals are endorsed by a majority in the University Council.

Urgency
In addition to the report authored by the taskforce, the university commissioned its own research on the subject. Following the departure of the Ethics professor, professor Eddy Blauw was tasked with evaluating UU's complaints procedure. The conclusions of both the taskforce and the commissioned research have been summarised in a document sent earlier this month by the Executive Board to the University Council (available here with your Solid-ID).

According to rector Henk Kummeling, the Executive Board is planning to adopt practically all of the suggestions made by the two reports. Therefore, he thinks it's a pity that the petition and the messages on social media may give outsiders the impression that the university either does not understand the urgency of the problem or dismisses it entirely. That is absolutely not the case, states the rector. "We are side by side, not against each other".

Dissatisfaction
Loes van der Woerdt, member of the University Council and the taskforce, indicated during the online meeting that she was happy to hear the rector's words. She acknowledges that many students and staff are dissatisfied with the situation, for they perceive the document summarising the conclusions in a different way. For them, the document "does not go deep enough", keeping things much too vague. "We can't find a consensus in all the aspects, which is a shame".

According to Kummeling, the only point people can disagree with is the extent to which the measures will be adopted, and the speed with which the university will implement the changes. One of the ideas highlighted by the rector was suggested by the taskforce: that complainants would be able to file a report anonymously. He thinks that could really help prevent inappropriate behaviour, but the Executive Board also sees legal obstacles to the suggestion. The same goes for extending the limitation period to make a complaint.

The rector said that some of the measures can already be adopted ahead of the summer, such as improving the complaints procedure and forming a professional and independent complaints commission. Other measures need more time.

Romantic relationships
In his opinion, the introduction of a personal relations policy requires a broader discussion, beyond the University Council. The taskforce pleads UU to quickly implement a policy that takes into account the hierarchical relations within the university, forbidding romantic relationships between teachers and students, for example. This proposal was inspired by a similar policy in place at the University of Delft. 

Kummeling expects to be able to provide a more detailed overview of the measures the Executive Board is planning to adopt, and the deadlines to implement them, by the next council meeting on April 16. In so doing, he hopes to ease the worries and objections of the University Council.

During the meeting, members of the council urged to be included in the further development of these plans. "It's such a delicate subject, so it's really important for us to tackle this together", concluded Loes van der Woerdt.

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