Approach to sexual harassment and misconduct approved by UU Council

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“We are satisfied with what we have now. The momentum is there”. The Executive Board has probably breathed a sigh of relief with these words of approval, delivered by student member Tom Buster during a meeting of the University Council held last Monday.

The fact that the University Council members have endorsed the proposed policy to promote UUers' safety from harassment and inappropriate behaviours (available on the Intranet. Solis-ID required) takes the sting out of the recent criticism aimed at the Executive Board, accused of not being sufficiently aware of the urgency to combat misconduct.

This theme was added to the administrative agenda at the end of 2020, following the forced departure of an Ethics professor. The Executive Board decided to conduct its own investigation into the effectiveness of its complaints procedure. Led by Professor Eddy Bauw, the study produced a report with several recommendations, but those follow-up steps were considered too vague and noncommittal by many, including the University Council.

A task force of students, of which Buster was a member, managed to draw attention to the University's so-called ‘culture of silence’ in the past months. Employees of the Ethics Institute ramped up the pressure with a petition urging UU to take instant action. It was signed by 1,301 people. 

Reacting to the petition a few weeks ago, UU's Rector, Henk Kummeling, said the initiative wasn't justified, as the Executive Board does take the issue very seriously, so much so that it is planning on implementing most of the recommendations made by Bauw and the student task force. In last Monday's meeting, the rector seemed much more positive. He thanked the initiators and the signatories for their commitment, adding that the petition was “an incentive to really do something”.

Time frame
In the document discussed by the University Council, the Executive Board responds to the criticism previously expressed by the council, in addition to providing a concrete time frame for the implementation of the planned changes. The priorities will be improving the complaints procedure and professionalising the complaints committee. Both of these tasks should be completed before the summer.

Additionally, the university must soon provide more details about what the position of the designated ombudsman, who is supposed to join UU this summer, will entail. In the most recent collective labour agreement (CAO in the Dutch acronym), it has been agreed that students and staff members who are victims of misconduct or sexual harassment can turn to this future official for help. At the same time, the complaints commitee should become more visible and easy to find. Rector Kummeling said the university will strive to provide a ‘counter’ where students and staff members can go.

The university is also planning on starting an investigation into the possibility of reporting abuses anonymously. Plans for later also include clarifying the issue of legal support for complainants and arranging for their aftercare. 

What's more, UU promised to pay more attention to the prevention of such behaviours and cultural change. Some of its initiatives in that regard include courses and workshops, as well as having managers watch "Mindlab", a theater performance about working and living at the university, which includes the theme of misconduct. A campaign video about "sexual safety”, aimed at student organisations, is also in the pipeline.

Relationships at the workplace
Last but not least, the Executive Board is now explicitly in favour of a code of conduct concerning relationships between students and staff members, one of the biggest wishes of the student taskforce. Previously, the Board said only that it could "possibly" work on such a document.

In order to make that happen, the Executive Board would first like to organise a university-wide “consultation” to get a definite answer about the desired etiquette. Before that, it will discuss with the council whether or not relationships between students and lecturers should be forbidden altogether. According to the University Council, the starting point for the discussion  about a new code will be that such romantic relationships should remain possible, but they must be reported. If necessary, managers will take measures about it.

Feeling unsafe
A group comprising members of the University Council will be closely involved in the procress of implementing the aforementioned measures in the coming period, with an update already planned for the next council meeting, to be held in June.

In last monday's meeting, student council member Tom Buster expressed the hope that the policy's measures will be effective. He said he has noticed himself that many students and staff members no longer feel safe at the university. According to him, this has to do with the increased attention being paid to issues of misconduct, which makes people “more aware that abuses take place.” Concluding his speech, he stated: “Let's please try to make sure that feeling disappears.”