Follow-up statement Executive Board regarding Cursor

The Executive Board sent an email with a follow-up statement in Cursor's case to all employees and students on Friday. For the sake of completeness in this process, we also place this statement on our website.

photo Bart van Overbeeke

'We welcome critical reporting

This week has seen a lot happening around Cursor. We have already issued a brief statement about it, which is on our website. We would like to provide additional insight into the background so that the other side of this story is also well highlighted. In response to the portrayal in the media, we would like to make it clear that, of course, we too value freedom of speech and freedom of the press. There is no disputing that. We give everyone the opportunity to make their own voice heard and we do not ban articles. At the same time, we are entitled to demand journalistic quality from our in-house magazine, and that is where the discussion is focused.

Just to ensure clarity, something about the role and position of Cursor, which are laid down in Cursor’s editorial statute. This statute, together with an agreed guideline, forms the framework for the actions of the editorial staff. One of the objectives of Cursor is to bridge the gap between the information needs and interests of the members of the university community and the mission, objectives and interests of the university. Cursor operates independently in a journalistic sense, but in compliance with the statute. The editor-in-chief is ultimately responsible for the editing and realization of Cursor and decides on the publication of articles. The formal publisher is the Executive Board. In addition, and in accordance with the statute, there is an editorial advisory board (‘redactieraad’). The composition of the board team that started in 2022, took place with the consent of the editorial staff. The editorial advisory board is an advisory body to the publisher and the editor-in-chief. If it is conceivable that reporting in Cursor could be detrimental to TU/e, it is up to the editor-in-chief to inform the publisher and the editorial advisory board of this. The editorial advisory board can advise the editor-in-chief in this respect, whether requested or not.

In recent years, articles have occasionally been written that, in the opinion of the editorial advisory board, do not comply with the editorial statute because these articles were not created in a journalistically responsible manner and/or the aforementioned balance was not properly ensured. The most recent article in which this occurred was about Rector Magnificus Silvia Lenaerts. The editorial board advised on this and concluded that the article did not fit the objective of Cursor, particularly because the required balance was not sufficiently ensured. In consultation with the editor-in-chief, it was then agreed, as an alternative, to do an interview with the new rector about her first impressions. This was with the understanding that there would be room for the cases regarding the rector’s previous position, but balanced with the other topics relevant to a starting rector. There was also a very lopsided balance in the new article, so the editorial advisory board recommended that the article be modified. The rector, as the interviewee, read the draft article and asked that adjustments be made to realize a more balanced coverage. The editor-in-chief chose not to publish the article.

So, there is no question of censorship. Nor are critical articles a problem in themselves. However, there is a clear difference of opinion about the application of the editorial statute  and the extent to which editors are bound by them. In all cases, it is ultimately up to the editor-in-chief, having read the advice of the editorial advisory board and the reaction of the interviewee, to decide whether or not to publish an article. We regret that the perception has been created that this is not so.

In view of privacy, we do not consider it appropriate at this point to discuss the situation surrounding the editor-in-chief in detail. For years, mutual tensions have arisen in the relationship between the editor-in-chief and the formal and operational publisher and the editorial board, making the editor-in-chief’s position untenable. Regrettably, discussions to resolve this have had no effect. This is particularly unfortunate. It was finally decided to assign the editor-in-chief to another position and put him in charge of another project. The removal of the editor-in-chief from this position is therefore completely unrelated to the proposed publication concerning the rector.

The decision to assign the editor-in-chief to another position prompted the editors to black out Cursor, seek publicity in the local and national media and gain the attention of both local and national politicians. We understand that the decisions made around the position of editor-in-chief have had a considerable impact on the editorial staff. We also understand that the editors feel the need to speak out about it. In the conversation with the editorial staff, it was stressed that, on the one hand, it is good to express your feelings but, on the other hand, it is in everyone’s interest to maintain calm and look ahead.

For some time, there has been a feeling among the editorial staff that, in breach of standards, they cannot do their work independently. This has been reported, with the result that the Committee for Reporting Irregularities is investigating whether actions by TU/e qualify as censorship. The investigation will have to show whether or not this is the case.

We want to emphasize again that we have in no way banned an article or exerted improper pressure to prevent publication. We welcome critical reporting that is fair and balanced and meets the objectives of Cursor. According to the advice of the editorial board, the draft article on Silvia Lenaerts did not meet this and this was communicated back to the editor-in-chief. It remained the editor-in-chief’s choice whether or not to publish the article. 

We are in talks with the editorial staff members and more talks will follow. We hope, and assume, that we can continue to work together to make Cursor function well and ensure critical and fair journalism at TU/e.

An illustration

Having said this, let us further explain the case mentioned above as an illustration. For that, a little chronology.

In the first half of 2022, Professor Silvia Lenaerts, then vice-rector of the University of Antwerp, was accused in the media by some University of Antwerp employees of not being clear about her affiliations. This was because she was inadvertently featured in an advertisement by the company Ineos and forgot to mention an affiliation in an opinion article. Regarding both cases, she has acknowledged that she should have been more careful. She has also stated that she has learned her lesson and will always make use of the expertise of the communications service. All of this was covered and settled in the Belgian media around that time.

Silvia Lenaerts was announced as TU/e’s new rector in January 2023. The two incidents were known when she was appointed. Cursor also devoted an article to the new rector and cited these incidents in the first article about her. We were sorry that Cursor, at the start of the rector’s tenure, colored her in this way.

Days after her inauguration on May 11 this year, the editor-in-chief presented a second article of no less than six pages, largely based on an anonymous source. That article focused only on matters relating to 2022. The piece gave the impression – by sheer volume of words alone – that something improper must have been going on after all and created an appearance of conflict of interest. The editorial advisory board then concluded – correctly, in our view – that the piece was unbalanced and lopsided and advised against publication.

In consultation with the editor-in-chief, it was then agreed, as an alternative, to do an interview with the new rector about her first impressions. This was with the understanding that there would be room for the issues mentioned, but balanced with the other topics relevant to a starting rector. That interview took place in June and again resulted in an article of six pages, four of which dealt with the two issues and again in part based on an anonymous source. The editorial board then had to conclude again that there was no balance and fairness. The rector also echoed this view at the time, but there was never any question of a ban on publishing. She made a request to adjust the article to ensure a better balance between past and future, which is her full right as an interviewee. It stopped there. The editor-in-chief decided not to publish the piece.

Around that time, Ms. Lenaerts also gave interviews to major newspapers in Belgium and the Netherlands, where she was also asked about the issues of 2022. The Gazet van Antwerpen and De Tijd then covered this in one paragraph. The ED and the FD did not mention the issue. In contrast, the many pages that Cursor wanted to devote to it felt disproportionate.

The course of events surrounding these articles is illustrative of the other articles that have generated discussion. We can imagine how the editorial staff feel shackled by the repetitive discussion. On the other hand, we on our side cannot but stand up for critical reporting that is fair and balanced and meets Cursor’s objectives. If there is a difference of opinion about that, we are perfectly willing to enter into a discussion about it. Therefore, as mentioned, we have already spoken with the editorial staff members and more conversations will follow. We hope, and assume, that we can continue to work together on the proper functioning of Cursor and guarantee critical and fair journalism at TU/e.

Executive Board TU/e'

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