This spring two alarming reports were published on sexual (and other) intimidation in the university sector. One was produced by the unions FNV and VAWO. They reported that four in ten university employees is troubled by bullying, gossip, exclusion or the abuse of power.
The other report was the work of the National Network of Women Professors (LNVH) and contained the testimonies of more than fifty women academics concerning their experience of harassment. This includes such practices as obstructing the academic work, sexual intimidation, physical and verbal threats, insults and exclusion.
Perhaps we need an independent national complaints committee to expose and combat these problems, suggested the unions. Opposition party PvdA asked the minister whether she thought this a good idea.
In reply the minister said she did not see this as being the solution. For the time being she wishes to leave the matter to the universities to resolve. After all, thanks in part to the two abovementioned reports, misconduct has been brought to their attention. Administrators, she believes, are now taking the problem very seriously.
Four universities are now working with ombudspersons and in December will present an evaluation of this approach. But the minister emphasized “that an ombudsperson is no panacea when it comes to solving intimidation”.
She is in discussion with the LNVH and academic society KNAW about a possible study of ways to prevent and deal with intimidation. She sees this matter as being related to academic policy and academic integrity.
“Long term the culture within universities must change, in order to prevent misconduct from occurring,” she writes. “In addition, I hope that my efforts to make the university system less competitive by encouraging cooperation will also, in time, have a positive impact on the general culture within universities.”