ScienceGuide also feels intimidated

News platform ScienceGuide has clashed with one of its funders, Maastricht University, accusing it of legal intimidation and silencing the free press. Maastricht denies any wrongdoing.

photo dane_mark / iStock

Amid the recent controversy surrounding the Eindhoven university magazine Cursor, which started with the sacking of that publication’s editor-in-chief and the editors blacking out the website in protest, ScienceGuide reported that it had also suffered from legal harassment.

This week, the platform, which publishes news articles and opinion pieces related to higher education and research, offered further context. As it turns out, ScienceGuide is involved in a legal dispute with Maastricht University, which is reclaiming 50,000 euros in funding. It is doing so after it demanded that the news website rectify one of its articles.

‘Position elsewhere’

The controversial article, published last July, was about a Maastricht professor who had – wrongly – accused a colleague of sexual misconduct. The professor was suspended and, as ScienceGuide put it, was to be given a ‘position elsewhere’.

According to Maastricht University, the original article contained factual errors and was unnecessarily damaging to one of its employees. Following its publication, the university demanded rectification under threat of legal action.

Although the article was amended as requested, ScienceGuide was left puzzled by the severity of the university’s response – don’t we all make mistakes from time to time? And couldn’t this have been resolved with a simple phone call or email? Moreover, such legal proceedings would have been prohibitively expensive for a small news organisation.


But the story didn’t end there, as Maastricht University is now demanding that ScienceGuide pay back its funding. “ScienceGuide has been funded by valued partners from the higher education sector for over 20 years”, the editorial board writes. “Through their contributions, we are able to offer an open platform for news and opinion articles as well as information about our partners themselves.”

ScienceGuide’s list of partners includes four universities, eight universities of applied sciences and three other organisations. Maastricht University is still listed, but according to the university its agreement with ScienceGuide expired back in 2021. That’s why it is now demanding back 50,000 euros in funding paid out over the last two years.

“Successful recovery would probably mean the end of ScienceGuide”, argue the editors, who have hired a lawyer. “We wonder if this is the new norm. Should higher education media like ScienceGuide prepare for a future in which financial, legal and employment threats become matters of editorial policy?”

No obligations

But according to the university, there is no connection between the rectification request and the dispute over the partnership agreement. The university simply had no financial obligations to ScienceGuide, it asserts.

“It is completely wrong to suggest that Maastricht University ‘seeks to thwart the publication of facts, criticism or substantiated views and opinions’”, the university writes in a statement. “Let there be no misunderstanding: we wish to see ScienceGuide continue its journalistic work. Last summer’s discussion shows that, as it does so, we must remain vigilant and critical with regard to inaccuracies, as should be expected of us. To avoid conflicts of interest, we believe that news media and organisations like ours should be as free as possible from financial or other ties.”

Editorial note

The amount of journalistic freedom at Cursor is very unclear at the moment. In collaboration with the unions, the editorial staff has submitted a proposal letter with suggestions regarding press freedom to the Executive Board, and a first discussion has taken place. This article was published in anticipation of the outcome of the negotiation process.

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