TU Delft university magazine removed critical article ‘under protest’

A online article critical of the culture of fear at TU Delft's Innovations & Impact Centre (I&IC) was taken down ‘under protest’ by Delta, the university's magazine, after legal pressure was brought to bear.

photo André Muller / istock

Delta published the article ‘How a duty of confidentiality created fear among I&IC staff and breach of trust with rector’ yesterday. The article describes how the Executive Board imposed a duty of confidentiality on the I&IC management team regarding the performance of the director appointed April 1st, 2023. This caused so much confusion and frustration that staff felt harmed. To Delta, twelve employees spoke of a breach of trust with rector magnificus Tim van der Hagen, the director of Human Resources and the ombudsperson. 

‘On behalf of the director named in the article, a legal firm demanded that Delta remove the article. If they didn't, an action for defamation or libel would follow,’ wrote Delta's editor-in-chief Saskia Bonger Monday evening in a blog. Likewise, TU Delft's own legal department is said to have demanded the removal of the article ‘because quoting from confidential documents contravenes labor law.’ 

‘We used multiple sources for this story, every claim has been substantiated. We stand behind every word in the article,’ writes Bonger, who also claims the article was removed not as a result of legal pressure, ‘but because we believe TU Delft has better ways to spend its time and money than by bringing legal proceedings against its own employees.’  

[Update 4:50 p.m.]

The Executive Board of TU Delft today apologized for the course of events. In a statement (included in full at the bottom of this article), president of the board Tim van der Hagen says that "the editorial team of Delta should be able to practice independent journalism in a safe working environment." Whether the article may be published again as far as the university is concerned is not yet clear, Delta writes.

Inspectorate's report 

In March the Education Inspectorate published a report critical of the unsafe work culture at TU Delft. Social safety at the university, according to the Inspectorate, is ‘seriously neglected’. While the inspection was underway, 148 reports were received of intimidation, sexism, racism, bullying, and other issues. The Inspectorate labels TU Delft's policy as ‘mismanagement’ and has given the university three months to produce an improvement plan. Education Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf called this ‘a clear assignment’. 

The Executive Board described the report as ‘unfounded’ and full of ‘false, incomplete and unsubstantiated or poorly substantiated accusations towards the university, (groups of) employees and (groups of) managers’. The TU then hired Verinorm. This research firm discredited the work of the Educational Inspectorate by referring to its ‘insubstantial information gathering’. The university subsequently announced its wish to take legal action ‘to have the legitimacy of the inspection assessed.’  

This prompted a general outcry. By way of a petition, eleven hundred employees asked that legal proceedings not be started and that the Inspectorate's recommendations be taken on board. Similarly, trade unions and participatory councils were strongly opposed to legal action being taken against the Inspectorate. In response, the Executive Board announced it had ‘listened gratefully’ to the critical voices and that it had decided not to pursue legal action.  

Statement Executive Board TU Delft

Yesterday, Delta published an article about unrest within the I&IC Directorate. As a result of this publication, lawyers of one of the people mentioned in the article demanded that Delta  take down the article. Shortly afterwards, TU Delft also asked Delta to take down the article. This should not have happened.

Tim van der Hagen, President of the Executive Board: “I can very well understand that this again arouses feelings of disappointment and indignation. Especially now. Especially now, when it is of the utmost importance to us to take the necessary steps as carefully as possible to create a socially safe environment for all our students and staff, as well as for Delta’s editorial staff, who must be able to practice independent journalism in a safe working environment. This should not have happened and I apologise on behalf of the Executive Board, especially to our colleagues at Delta. Delta is an independent journalistic medium. That they follow us critically is not always pleasant, but it is good and necessary. And it should stay that way.

TU Delft is in the middle of drawing up a plan to improve social safety. This makes the incident all the more painful. The Executive Board is aware that yesterday’s events will not help this process. That is why we are apologising now.”

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