PUR: ‘Executive Board fails to recognize extent and seriousness of undesired behavior’

Staff faction PUR reproached the Executive Board during yesterday afternoon’s University Council meeting for failing to recognize the extent and seriousness of undesired behavior at TU/e. In a statement, PUR referred to an article about this issue published by Cursor last week, and in particular to a statement added by the Executive Board. President Robert-Jan Smits was very upset by the criticism and stated that the Executive Board worked very hard over the past years to create a safe working environment at TU/e.

photo Michal Bednarek / Shutterstock

University Council member Ellen Konijnenberg started the statement, which she gave on behalf of staff faction PUR during yesterday’s meeting, by saying that the University Council is happy to see that the Executive Board takes social safety at TU/e seriously. But PUR wants the Executive Board to quickly take steps that will lead to more preventive measures and a culture change. Konijnenberg referred to the stories about racism and transgressive behavior at TU/e published by Cursor last week. These stories emphasize how important it is to act with a sense of urgency, Konijnenberg said.

PUR believes that a culture change should be a first priority. A first step is to design policies and processes for addressing situations where things went wrong, the statement said. “But it shouldn’t stop there,” according to PUR member Konijnenberg. “Stating that misconduct is not tolerated is great, but showing that victims are safe and that trespassers will be dealt with and not protected, is better.”


PUR believes that bystanders who witness undesired behavior should also be allowed to submit a case or complaint. Konijnenberg: “This will make bystanders feel safer, and multiple bystanders can make a case where a single person can’t.” PUR calls for widely available bystander courses that train people to become ‘active bystanders.’

Konijnenberg said that the Executive Board and the University Council have discussed the issue repeatedly, at the board’s invitation. But the Executive Board’s official statement in response to the article published by Cursor, shows that “the Executive Board fails to recognize the extent and seriousness of undesired behavior,” according to PUR.

A University Council delegation wants to sit down with the Executive Board before the summer recess to further discuss the issue. During this meeting, PUR wants to talk about recommendations, including those made by professor Remco Tuinier, who was also interviewed by Cursor last week about incidents of undesired behavior and possible solutions. The University Council also wants to discuss how it can be involved in plans and campaigns, and how these can be implemented rapidly.


In an initial reaction to PUR’s statement, Executive Board president Robert-Jan Smits said that he was shocked by it. He further stated that the reproach directed at the Executive Board for failing to recognize the extent and seriousness of undesired behavior at TU/e is unfair. Smits: “Social safety has featured high on the board’s agenda for a long time, and we’ve worked hard over the past years to further increase it. Such as by recruiting more confidential advisors and by the future appointment of an independent ombudsperson. That is why I believe that the University Council’s claim that we pay no attention to this issue is unfair.” Smits continued by asking Konijnenberg rather sharply on what grounds PUR had made its reproach.

“To start with, the low number of complaints we see in the annual reports of the complaints committees that handle these cases,” Konijnenberg told Smits. “We consider those cases to be the very small tip of the iceberg. I also base that reproach on what I’ve seen and heard here during my time at TU/e, working in various functions and at different places. People were severely damaged in certain situations, and I never saw that addressed later in a complaint in an annual report.”

An impression

Vice-president Nicole Ummelen said that the Executive Board does indeed discuss these kinds of cases – “where people get stuck in the system. The impression that the Executive Board isn’t sufficiently aware of this, is wrong, because we are. We understand the seriousness of this problem, but we don’t see its scope. Because we know that people don’t always file a complaint. That is why we need to take further steps, and we will need to do this jointly. Because this isn’t just about the Executive Board or inactive bystanders. It’s a complex matter that doesn’t only affect our institution. We learn from the way in which other institutions approach this problem, and we would like to discuss that with the University Council.”

After those statements made by vice-president Nicole Ummelen, board president Smits said that he would like to refrain from any further comment. Although he did tell University Council president Trees Klaver that PUR’s statement was regrettable, “least of all for the council itself.”

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