NWO chair Levi puts on hair shirt

Marcel Levi, chair of the Dutch Research Council, has apologised for a column about social safety. “I understand that I have unintentionally opened up old wounds in the academic community.”

photo Gil C / Shutterstock

Last Saturday, in his weekly column in Het Parool, Levi suggested that the term safety is often misused. Safety risks becoming a fashionable but meaningless buzzword “for absolutely all situations in which you don’t get your own way”.

He wrote that it was extremely dangerous that the term risks being devalued to a cliché. “And when an unsafe situation genuinely arises, nobody responds. So misuse of the word ‘safety’ then actually becomes unsafe.”


He also criticised the anonymous reports about the conduct of former House Speaker Khadija Arib and called it “a bit strange” that the House of Representatives has six confidential counsellors for a workforce of 600.

The column led to a lot of reactions, including one from the Dutch Network of Women Professors. Levi has put on a hair shirt. “I realise now that this column and the examples given could be seen as an endorsement of administrators and managers that dismiss inappropriate behaviour as moaning and a lack of resilience, whereas that is actually one of the significant factors that perpetuate an unhealthy research culture.”

Old wounds

He regrets that he has opened up “old wounds in the academic community”. “It has absolutely never been my intention to hurt people. But that is what has happened, so I offer my apologies for it.”

The board of the Dutch Research Council, which Levi chairs, has given an assurance that social safety will get a lot of attention in the years ahead. It “distances itself explicitly from the possible image of the Dutch Research Council as an organisation that embraces social safety in word but not in deed”.

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