Statement by the Executive Board regarding the DUB article about the departure of a UU professor

Given the attention in DUB external link(article in Dutch) surrounding the departure of a professor following allegations of inappropriate behaviour, the Executive Board wishes to clarify the situation.

The immediate reason for the professor’s departure was a series of complaints by a former colleague and a current colleague. The Executive Board acknowledges that the professor’s actions and negligence were so culpable that legal consequences could not be avoided. As a result, a joint decision was taken to terminate the professor’s employment with effect from 1 October 2020.

Complaints procedure
In October 2019, an ex-colleague and a current colleague filed complaints against the professor concerned. These complaints were dealt with by the UU’s Committee for Inappropriate Behaviour. The committee interviewed a number of individuals and issued a recommendation to the Executive Board. The Executive Board considered the advice of the Committee on Inappropriate Behaviour carefully and conducted a number of additional interviews.

Decision of the Executive Board
The Executive Board found that the professor had a secret, long-term relationship with an employee, which he failed to report to the head of department (the relationship started when the employee concerned was still a student). A complaint made by this (now former) employee regarding sexual harassment was declared unfounded. However, a complaint made by this (former) employee regarding the lack of institutional embedding and the creation of an unsafe working environment was upheld. In addition, the Executive Board judged it culpable that another employee was urged to keep quiet about the relationship. The allegation of harassment made by this second employee on account of the perceived duty of silence and the creation of an unsafe working environment was upheld. Inter alia, the professor claims never to have imposed a duty of silence. The Executive Board ruled that the professor’s actions and negligence were so culpable that legal consequences could not be avoided. As a result, in June a joint decision was taken to terminate the professor’s employment with effect from 1 October 2020.

Further investigation into institutional culture
Once the complaints procedure had been concluded, the Executive Board arranged for a further independent investigation by a former Dean and Berenschot of the culture and relationships in the institute of which the professor was director, since there were signs of a broader cultural problem. The investigation did not involve a second opinion on the complaint procedure. The investigators concluded that there was no structural cultural problem, but that a number of areas required attention. These are issues that play a wider role in the university. The researchers argue that discussing inappropriate behaviour with colleagues and managers or reporting to authorities, does not always turn out to be easy; a clear university framework is missed. A more active role of bystanders would have been desirable. Recommendations have been formulated to this end.

Review of the complaints procedure
The researchers’ recommendations partly relate to the policy and culture of the Institute. This includes improved preparation, recording and archiving of B&O interviews, as well as active bystander training. This is taken up by the dean, the head of the department and the director. The investigators also advised the Executive Board to review the complaints procedure to see how it could be improved. The Executive Board has launched a separate independent review for this purpose, conducted by a professor and BING. The university will investigate the procedure to see what additional measures can be taken to ensure that inappropriate behaviour can be reported easily and safely, and that complaints can be dealt with quickly and transparently. A report containing recommendations is expected to follow in January.

Safety of students and staff
Executive Board President Anton Pijpers external link: ‘The safety of students and staff and the learning and working environment at Utrecht University is paramount. Inappropriate behaviour is unacceptable. This case has shown once again how much suffering this causes. As Executive Board, we must take the opportunity to learn from this case. The university must do everything in its power to prevent inappropriate behaviour. If it does occur, it must be dealt with and resolved in the right way.’

Reporting inappropriate behaviour
If you experience inappropriate behaviour while a UU employee or student, try to discuss the matter with the person concerned. If you do not feel comfortable doing this or it has no effect, you should contact your line manager, HR adviser or the occupational physician. If your network of colleagues or manager(s) are unable to help you, or if you want to talk about the matter in a safe environment, please get in touch with one of the confidential advisers for inappropriate behaviour.

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