Make UU Safe for Everyone
Last autumn, a group of UU students and alumni took the initiative to form the Actiegroep Wangedrag (Action Group on Misconduct), and conducted broad research on how UU handles complaints of inappropriate behavior. They spoke with victims of inappropriate behavior, including students and staff who have consulted the confidential advisors or filed an official complaint.
Their conclusions? Our complaints procedure is unsafe for reporters and complainants, is ineffective in dealing with undesirable behavior, is based insufficiently on expertise about social (in)security and is not independent. What's more: complainants experience the complaints procedure as traumatic.
Another problem raised by the Action Group is that there is no clear policy on personal relationships at the UU. This makes students and employees in a subordinate position vulnerable (such as PhD students). The faculty and supervisors on whom they depend are currently not told to refrain from viewing students and subordinate staff as a potential sexual or romantic partner. Thus, there are no clear standards about what behavior is or is not seen as misconduct.
The implication was crystal clear: the complaints procedure at the UU needed to be greatly improved and there also needed to be clear policies around personal relationships, aimed at improving social safety. To this end, the Misconduct Action Group made several proposals, which were adopted by the full University Council. These proposals are about a fair, transparent, safe and independent complaints procedure, in which reviewers of complaints have the requisite expertise. They have to do with good aftercare for reporters of inappropriate behavior, who are now traumatized by how they currently experience the complaints procedure. And they are about a clear relationship policy, which protects students and subordinate staff instead of leaving them in a vulnerable position.
No complainant or defendant was heard
In the same period in which the Actiegroep Wangedrag was conducting its research, the Executive Board itself had commissioned an evaluation of the complaints procedure, which was carried out by Professor Bauw (Professor of Private Law) in collaboration with Peter Schokker (Bureau BING). During the U-Raad meeting on March 24, Rector Kummeling stated that the Bauw Report shows that the complaints procedure works well across the board - a statement that is also emphasized on the UU Website.
However, as was rightly argued in an article that appeared in NRC, that conclusion cannot be drawn at all on the basis of the Bauw Report, since not a single complainant or defendant was heard in that investigation. In addition, the response of the Executive Board to the Bauw Report and the Misconduct Action Group Report did not reassure us (see meeting document 21.069 addressed to the University Council). For example, in the memorandum from the Executive Board, among the action points to be taken that will not happen in the short term it says: "Possibly adjust Code of Conduct and regulation of undesirable behavior; and/or possibly draw up Personal Relationship Policy" (p. 3 at the bottom). That's twice too frequent the word "possibly," and it also explains why there was good reason for skepticism about addressing misconduct.
Petition for a clear message
In response to this initial reaction, it seemed important that members of the academic community send a clear message about the urgent need for the expeditious implementation of as many of the recommendations of the Actiegroep Wangedrag report as possible. It is especially crucial in this regard that there be a personal relationship policy and an amendment to the code of conduct that should ensure that students and subordinate staff can refer to clear standards if they experience undesirable behavior, and also make it apparent to all members of the university community what type of behavior is considered undesirable.
Therefore, members of the Ethics Institute have taken the initiative to launch a petition, which has already been signed by some 1200 UU staff, students and alumni. This has three goals: first of all, we want to express our gratitude to the students and alumni of the Actiegroep Wangedrag, who have done the work that should have been done by the leaders of our academic community. Second, we call on the Executive Board to proactively implement the recommendations in that report, including clear standards in the code of conduct and in a personal relationship policy. Third, with this petition, we want to contribute to making the topic of social safety within the UU more open to discussion, because it is clear that it is not yet open to discussion or discussed in all parts of the university.
Safe for everyone
On April 26, social safety is on the agenda of the U-Council, and the CvB will explain its position. Only then will it become clear how the more positive attitude that the rector has expressed on the proposals since the launch of the petition will translate into concrete steps.
We call on all UU staff, students and alumni to explicitly support the proposal of the Action Group and the U-Council, by signing this petition. It is a way to show that we appreciate the work of the Actiegroep Wangedrag and that we, as an academic community, believe that improvements are very much needed if we are to realize genuine social safety for everyone. With a good complaints procedure and clear rules about personal relationships, we can move closer to a goal that everyone shares: a university that is safe for everyone.
Yara Al Salman
Maurits de Jongh
Naomi van Steenbergen