Call for improvements to the complaint procedure gains momentum
“Several faculties have pointed out that there are issues surrounding the complaint procedure,” says Veronique Stokkers of the Faculty Council of Social Sciences. “The threshold is high for complainants. They are often told to ‘think carefully about the consequences of coming up with a complaint.’ In addition, we wonder how independent the university complaints committee is and to what extent the Board can ignore their advice.”
Reason enough for a group consisting of eight students and three former students to set up their own action group. They were also inspired by the 2019 report by the National Network of Women Professors, which revealed that harassment and intimidation are commonplace in academia.
The action group has come up with a survey to verify whether more people are bothered by the complaint procedure. Students and employees can share their experiences anonymously by answering questions such as: how seriously were your complaints taken? Do you feel safe to talk about your complaint? Have you ever felt silenced? What were the consequences of your complaint to the person charged?
University Council members Tom Buster and Loes van der Woerdt are also involved in this research. They submitted questions about the matter to the Board on December 8. “Why isn’t it clear in the procedure what the role of the complaints committee is, exactly? The Board takes the final decision, based on advice from Legal Affairs, but that is not mentioned anywhere,” said Buster during the University Council meeting.
Professor forced to resign
One of the cases in which the complaint procedure is being heavily criticised concerns the forced departure of a Humanities professor who served as director of the Ethics Institute. DUB published an extensive analysis of the case today.
Two people filed complaints against the professor and both of them told DUB that they would advise students and employees against doing the same unless radical changes are made to the complaint procedure. “I hoped that speaking up would lead to a safer work and study environment for women,” said one of the complainants. "Now I know that was in vain."
The professor against whom the complaints were made isn’t happy with the procedure either. “I wouldn’t have minded if the university had punished me based on a fair, clear procedure. But given what I was asked to do, and how they’ve handled witnesses’ statements, I can only be surprised about the advice issued by the complaints committee.”
Commission to scrutinize procedure
The Executive Board has already taken initiative to examine the complaint procedure, partly in response to the case DUB wrote about today. A committee comprised of Law professor Eddy Bauw and consultancy firm Bing is expected to present recommendations for changes in January. UU President Anton Pijpers said in the DUB article that he is afraid that all the criticism against the complaint procedure will deter employees from submitting complaints themselves. "That would be the worst outcome."
Rector Henk Kummeling also hopes that the committee will come up with good proposals about the composition of a complaints committee, the procedure that is now being followed, and how the board handles the complaints. He pointed out, however, that it is legally determined that the Executive Board should be responsible for the final decision, which can deviate from the committee's advice. As usual, Legal Affairs is consulted for this. “We are not going to redo the advice. We’re actually looking at whether the procedure went well and whether valid arguments were mentioned.”
In the last meeting of the University Council, the students who are involved in the action group were promised a talk with the complaints committee so that they can voice their objections.