TU/e Board obstructed Cursor's ‘journalistic freedom’

TU/e's Executive Board (CvB) violated internal rules relating to Cursor's press freedom. This conclusion was reached by a committee of inquiry following a report of censorship. The committee also found, however, that Cursor's editorial team was subject to neither systematic censorship nor sustained outside influence.

A string of incidences took their toll on Cursor's editor-in-chief and editorial team. They lost the feeling of being able to carry out their work as journalists 'with the independence and freedom it required'. In the ‘Report of Findings and Advice’, the ‘Committee for the Report of Irregularities at TU/e’ reconstructs how a crisis of trust arose insidiously between Cursor's editor-in-chief (Han Konings) and the president of the CvB (Robert-Jan Smits). 

In the normal course of things, reports by the Committee for the Report of Irregularities at TU/e are sent to the CvB. As the subject of the inquiry was the CvB itself, the report was sent to the Supervisory Board. The full report can be read here (in Dutch).   

On June 26, 2023 Cursor editor Bridget Spoor reports an incident of censorship by the CvB. She makes her report to the director of the CEC (Communication Expertise Centre), under which Cursor falls. She has written an article voicing criticism and now, she believes, editor-in-chief Han Konings does not feel free to publish it. Konings is said to be under pressure from the CvB. After many months of inquiry, the committee now concludes that an ‘irregularity’ and an ‘abuse’ occurred. In this article we set out the events that took place.  

This article is followed by the full responses to the report by the following bodies/persons:   
  1. The Executive Board 
  2. The Supervisory Board  
  3. The person who reported the censorship 
  4. Cursor's editorial board 

The conflict stems from a difference of opinion relating to the interpretation of Cursor's editorial statute. The editorial team holds the opinion that Cursor is a fully independent journalistic medium, while the CvB states that ‘never in an absolute sense’ can Cursor function independently because the editorial team is bound by the editorial statute to consider the ‘interests of the university’. So if an article is detrimental to the interests of TU/e, situations may arise in which Cursor's editor-in-chief must decide not to publish the piece in question.  

Added to which, the CvB has been troubled more than once by the meticulousness of Cursor's journalism, and it is of the opinion that in articles sounding a critical note the truth of the matter is not always presented in a balanced way. In its report, the committee passes no comment on the alleged lack of journalistic quality because it regards itself as ‘not equipped’ to do so.   

On October 3, 2023 the Cursor website starts a news blackout. This is prompted by TU/e's suspension of Cursor's editor-in-chief, Han Konings. Behind the scenes there have been spats for a while, caused by discussions about whether or not to publish critical-sounding articles.  

The independence of the university press  

In 2023 Cursor became national news when its website started a news ‘blackout’. The Volkskrant and NRC wrote articles about press control in Eindhoven. ‘University newspaper Cursor muzzled’, ran The Volkskrant headline. Parliamentary questions were asked. 

Recently, an article about the lack of social safety caused a commotion at TU Delft. University magazine Delta pulled the article (under protest) from its site after the university threatened to hold the editor-in-chief liable for any resulting damage/harm.  

Education minister Robbert Dijkgraaf has since stated repeatedly that an independent university press is a major public good, especially within academic debate. In the Lower House last week he said, ‘We're seeing a number of incidents that show that some institutions are struggling a little with this. An academic press is an excellent tool for keeping people on their toes. That's why it's important that the editorial teams working on newspapers and magazines in higher education institutions are able to operate independently. It's the responsibility of these institutions to safeguard this journalistic independence and to ensure that these publications don't become PR newsletters.’ 

The committee's report addresses a number of cases. For example, in 2021 Cursor's editorial team wrote three articles about the lack social safety at TU/e. The first two articles were published in June. When in November Cursor wants to run a third article - in which an anonymous PhD candidate says he has been blackmailed – this leads to a clash between Smits and Konings. At this point, the editorial board at the time, the body charged with overseeing how the editorial team conducts its journalism, has already advised against publication.   

The CvB had what it described as an ‘intense’ discussion with Konings; Konings characterized it as being ‘intimidating’. According to the inquiry report, during this discussion Konings id told that he has an ‘inadequate moral compass’. Allegedly, he is also told that by this time the CvB was through with him, expressed in Dutch as 'spewed out by every member of the CvB'. Although Konings decides not to publish the third article, the relationships between the parties are damaged beyond repair.    

No confidence 

Two months later, in January 2022, Konings learns from Smits that the entire CvB no longer has any confidence in him. He is offered alternative positions. After the vice president of the CvB mediates, it is agreed that Konings will be given a reprieve: he will cease to be Cursor's editor-in-chief as of July 2024, after which ‘he will [...] be put to work elsewhere within TU/e', says the report.   

From that moment on, Cursor's editor-in-chief is 'aangeschoten wild' as the committee puts it, using Dutch shorthand, before elaborating that he was: 'as someone whose reputation has been so damaged by all that has happened that he was, in fact, no longer able to function normally’.   

When midway through 2022 Konings puts forward names for new members of the editorial board, the CvB bypasses him by largely choosing its own appointees. Under the editorial statute, the CvB was entitled to do this, but it ‘differed from the way things had been done in the preceding years’.  


In June 2023 at the CvB's request, the editorial board issues an advisory statement about the performance of the editor-in-chief, without Konings' knowledge and without giving him the right of reply. The previous editorial board had previously ignored the same request. The committee refers to course of business as ‘negligent'.   

The employment conflict with the editor-in-chief makes communication difficult. And so a ‘liaison’ is appointed, someone to act as messenger between the CvB and Cursor's editor-in-chief. ‘The committee writes that in this period various interventions were carried out by the CvB directed at the editorial team and the editor-in-chief and that, while the committee assumes these were done with good intentions, in retrospect they caused feelings to run high rather than calm down.’  

Furthermore, the new president of the editorial board – communications and reputation expert Frank Janssen – writes a guideline. This is an attempt to clarify the ambiguities in the editorial statute and to set out new working arrangements. The aim: to bring clarity and to work on rebuilding trust. But it bears precious little fruit, because while the document is endorsed by the CvB, the editorial team disputes having endorsed it.   

Increasing influence  

In its report, the committee writes the following summary: ‘The appointment of this liaison, the guideline, the discussions held about it, and the ensuing confusion about it, created [...] the impression that increasing influence was being exerted on the day-to-day work of those involved and their communication with the CvB, and that the procedures relating to publication were gradually being ever more tightly “nailed down”. Moreover, in this period the editorial board issued an advice critical of the performance of the editor-in-chief, without hearing both parties' views of the advice. Given the context, while recognizing that hearing both parties is not explicitly required by the editorial statute, the committee believes this was negligent. All in all, the sum of the various interventions helped create a situation that, in the opinion of the committee, went further than what would have been appropriate within normal working relationships.’  

Meanwhile, Konings is keeping the editorial team abreast of developments. This helps extend the feeling of an unsafe work atmosphere to the editorial team. 'They feared that at any moment the position of individual members of the editorial team could also be up for discussion’, writes the committee in the report.   

Baseline interference 

When in 2023 another debate develops, this time over the proposed publication of a critical-sounding article about the new rector magnificus Silvia Lenaerts, it is evident yet again that the working relationships are impaired. ‘Its increasing micromanagement of the news medium created the impression that the CvB was exerting baseline interference in the journalistic work’, in the words of the committee.   

The committee also understands, however, the CvB's behavior, due to the 'in itself understandable concern at TU/e about achieving a good balance between the free gathering of news, quality journalism and other relevant interests within the university’.  

Professional distance  

But the committee also thinks that the CvB should have taken the initiative in combating the increasing mutual distrust. As a good employer, Smits should have ‘de-escalated the worsening, conflict-ridden situation that had arisen and maintained greater professional distance from the conflict and [...] from how Cursor's editorial team went about its journalistic work. This did not happen, at least not sufficiently.’   

When asked, Smits does not respond to this point of criticism. ‘It's always easy when you look at situations with hindsight,’ he says. ‘Of course I too would have liked everything to have gone differently.’ The CvB president places the emphasis on looking forward.   

While in its report the committee writes that TU/e made insufficient efforts to de-escalate the conflicts that had arisen, there is no evidence ‘of long-term interference or a pattern of interference with editorial content nor of systematic censorship.’   

All things considered, the report states that the following occurred: ‘a violation of the internal rules regarding the editorial team's freedom to operate as journalists, combined with the violation of rules of good employership'.   

Socially unsafe  

In formal wording the committee finds that 'taken together, the situations described in the report are an irregularity and an abuse, respectively, within the meaning of the Regulations and the Dutch Whistleblower Protection Act (Wbk), owing to the situation that arose, which was felt to be socially unsafe, and that for many of those involved, members of the editorial team, persisted for (too) long (over two years) and which negatively impacted their performance both individually and as an editorial team.’  

Although the committee says it can pass no judgment on the content of Cursor's journalism, it does give editorial advice. ‘Independent and professional journalism for a news medium like Cursor means [...] not that the editorial team simply gives an "opinion", seeks sensation, or steers opinions in a particular direction. On the contrary, without adopting a position in advance, Cursor's editorial team is required to show what developments are happening within the university, so that everyone is free to form their own opinion.’  

The CvB is also offered suggestions. The Board is advised to maintain ‘professional distance’ from the journalism, ‘by offering professional scope for high quality journalism'. Should tensions occur again, the Board would be well advised 'to show compassion’, states the report.  


Bridget Spoor, who reported the censorship, is pleased with the report and the committee's conclusions. In a statement she writes: ‘I have won my whistleblower case. The abuse that I reported has been found to have occurred. It has been recognized that as an editorial team we experienced too much obstruction as we went about our business of freely reporting.' 

In a letter to the CvB Peter Wennink, president of TU/e's Supervisory Board (RvT), writes that he 'agrees with the findings and the conclusions of the inquiry report'. ‘The RvT considers the recommendations made by the committee to be very valuable, and as such they are endorsed by the RvT and as of today will inform wherever possible the future process.’  

In a statement the CvB states that it ‘regrets’ that members of Cursor's editorial team ‘felt unable to do their work properly. We were insufficiently aware of that'. Like the RvT, the Board welcomes the recommendations, ‘which support the path we are already starting to take with Cursor’.  

Former editor-in-chief Han Konings says when asked that he feels 'heard and understood' by the committee. 'In reaching its conclusions, the committee paints a good picture of what happened.' 

The responses of the CvB and the RvT are a disappointment to Konings. 'The emphasis is on looking ahead. They are really losing no time in putting the past behind them, while the committee clearly judges that an abuse has taken place. I think it's a shame that no reflection is taking place about everything that has happened. This is important if you want to win back trust and restore the feeling of safety,' says Konings. 

Executive Board reaction

The Executive Board considers Cursor’s function as a university magazine to be highly important and strongly values its journalistic independence. Since October, in collaboration with the editorial staff and the interim general editor, we have therefore taken the necessary steps towards the future. The general editor is well advanced with a plan for the future of Cursor and efforts have been made towards the mutual restoration of trust. With the positive direction that we have taken, we expect that we will achieve a structurally improved and future-proof Cursor. 

The Executive Board has studied the report of the independent committee for irregularities with great interest and appreciates the committee’s work. We welcome the recommendations, which support the path that we have been following with Cursor for some time. In addition, we are satisfied with the committee's finding that there was no systematic censorship or disproportionate interference with the editorial work of Cursor. 

The committee’s work also touches upon the aspect of social safety. As TU/e, we have taken many steps in this regard over the past years, and we continue to work on improvement. It is a process of learning by doing. In this context, we regret that Cursor’s editors have felt unable to perform their work effectively. This was something that we did not sufficiently realize. We hope that the improvements implemented around Cursor will enable the editors to again work comfortably. In addition, we expect that the continued efforts in the areas of integrity and social safety by many in this organization will lead to further improvements in the culture and the facilities. 

Supervisory Board reaction

The SB has come to the conclusion that it agrees with the findings and conclusions of the Committee's investigative report and welcomes them as such. The SB considers the recommendations made by the Committee to be very valuable and therefore endorses them, and will take them into account as much as possible for the future process.

At this point, the SB would like to briefly address two specific aspects.

1. Complaint regarding censorship at Cursor:

The notification to the Committee concerns the (possible) application of censorship whereby TU/e would block articles originating from the editors of the online university newspaper Cursor. The notifier is a member of the editorial staff who has personal experience of this.

First of all, the SB notes that the Committee did not identify any (intent to) disproportionate prior interference in the editorial work. Nor did the Committee find any systematic censorship by TU/e. In short, with regard to the notification, the Committee has established explicitly and with good reason that there was no systematic censorship at Cursor.

The SB deeply regrets the conclusion by the Committee in its investigative report that (at the time) a work situation arose at Cursor that was experienced as increasingly unsafe by the Cursor editorial staff - in part because of the fact that the then editor-in-chief felt intimidated, thereby creating a sense of insecurity among the editorial staff whereby no timely intervention was taken.

The SB acknowledges that a number of unfortunate incidents/negligence regarding Cursor arose. The SB has discussed this with the EB. Furthermore, the SB has also spoken with the new interim editor-in-chief. The SB concludes that a situation of improved and normalized relations between the EB and the interim editor-in-chief has now emerged. The SB has the impression that with the arrival of the new interim editor-in-chief, the relationship with the EB has been restored and hard work is being done to eliminate the feeling of social unsafety that had arisen among both the editorial staff and TU/e in general.

However, the SB also observes from the conversation with the interim editor-in-chief that currently the distrust among the editorial staff has not completely dissipated and that it will take time to gradually eliminate this distrust, in the sense of slowly letting go of the past and working towards restoring good relations for the future.

TU/e is a learning organization and the interim editor-in-chief has indicated that a number of steps and actions are now being taken by him to slowly eliminate the remaining distrust.

The way out of the resulting crisis of confidence follows the line of the contents, for which a new editorial vision and a new formula for Cursor forms the basis. To this end, the "Improvement Plan for Cursor 2024" has been drawn up. This also includes a modernized statute and a new editorial board. The foundation for this was formed through numerous conversations, consultations, documents and a healing session with the editorial staff.

These actions and steps are in line with the conclusions and recommendations of the Committee's investigative report, in addition to which the recommendations of the Committee are hereby considered by the SB to be very valuable and useful in order to gradually achieve a new future perspective.

2. Social safety

As indicated TU/e is a learning organization. With regard to social safety in a general sense within TU/e, the SB recognizes the concern for social safety. Within TU/e, the necessary initiatives have already been taken to strengthen the safe study and work culture within the university, which is intended to lead to a more coherent, recognizable and accessible organization and process surrounding social safety. The SB will also remain closely involved in this through its supervisory role. Again, the importance of adequate social safety is high on the TU/e agenda, and the SB periodically discusses this with the CvB and other relevant bodies within the university. 

Although the approach is beginning to bear fruit, there is still a long way to go. After all, working on social safety is an ongoing process that is never finished and will require constant work, both now and in the future. It is also a process whereby repeated learning moments must then be taken into account again and again for the future. The conclusions and recommendations of the Committee are considered by the SB to be very valuable and useful in order to gradually arrive at a new future perspective.

Response of the person who reported the censorship, Bridget Spoor 

‘I have won my whistleblower case. The abuse that I reported has been found to have occurred. It has been recognized that as an editorial team we experienced too much obstruction from Eindhoven University of Technology as we went about our business of freely reporting, likewise that a socially unsafe work environment was created by the Board and as an extension of that, the employer, and that too little was done to stop this. The committee of inquiry has also issued advice, consisting of 20 actions to prevent this situation occurring in future. 

For a moment, let me take you back to June 26, 2023, the day that I made a report under the Dutch Whistleblower Protection Act. My report concerned censorship imposed on the university newspaper Cursor. I did not feel free to pursue my work as a journalist and was regularly obstructed. By this I mean instances of the editorial board advising against publication, permission to publish not being given by the rector, not facilitating the right of reply, or the university requesting editorial changes. Examples of this obstruction are given in the committee's report. When the advice not to publish was received several times from the rector regarding an article about an alleged conflict of interest and so much pressure was put on my boss and the future of his position, I decided to report the abuse and to have it investigated. 

That inquiry is now complete and the advisory outcome has been produced. The abuse has therefore been found to have occurred. Let me start with the committee's finding that no systematic censorship took place. In other words, there were many articles that we were able to publish. So in that sense they are right: it was not the case that every piece was stopped or that someone wanted to amend very article we wrote. Nor for that matter is that what I was claiming; I have experienced spurious interference in multiple articles by the Board, the spokesperson function and the editorial board, which led to the censorship of a couple of articles. And in my opinion every censored piece is one too many. So I can agree with the committee's assessment of the facts. 

The committee upheld my report of an abuse based on a social wrongdoing, which was the category in which I believed my report belonged, incidentally a category not included in TU/e's original regulations, but which according to the law does fall under the Dutch Whistleblower Protection Act. Fortunately the law prevails over internal regulations. 

The committee thinks that improper pressure was placed on my editor-in-chief and on us as an editorial team, which subjected us to disproportional obstruction. There was more friction than you should have to deal with in your work as a journalist, and as well as influencing publications this also led to a socially unsafe work atmosphere. This recognition released a lot of emotion and energy. Finally, recognition. No, Bridget, what has happened here is not normal, and you people are not crazy. The Board, the editorial board, the director of communications and the employer as a whole did not treat us well. The committee stated that a socially unsafe situation was created by the Board. The employer did not demonstrate good employership. 

Regrettably, the report's publication did not happen in good consultation, something we did try to achieve. My lawyer and TU/e's were in discussion with one another, but on May 31st TU/e decided independently to go public with a partly redacted report. Which I think is unacceptable: there should be full transparency and here I invoke freedom of speech as it is laid down in European law. As well as the fully transparent report [being required], the procedures in this regard must also be followed properly. The Supervisory Board tasked the CvB with the disclosure, yet the CvB was the subject of investigation; that is not the proper way of doing things. The Supervisory Board must take the lead in stating whether, how and when the advice given will be followed up. And in this case there is added complexity: the Supervisory Board also became involved because that's where our team also sought help within TU/e. There were discussions but we never received any feedback about what the RvT subsequently discussed. 

But the Supervisory Board has now announced that it recognizes the findings in the report and embraces its advice. The prompts mixed feelings: it is sad that you have to go so far in order for people to realize that their action, or lack of, is not okay. But at the same time I am happy to see that people now want to change, that is hopeful. However, it is essential that the RvT comes with a SMART commitment to implementing the specified actions. Furthermore, I still have to fight to get the full costs of the necessary legal help reimbursed by the university now that my case has been upheld.  

I am grateful that the committee did not turn a blind eye. At the meeting in which it handed over the report, the committee complimented me for taking the lead in addressing this abuse. I was pleased by this recognition, because it is definitely grueling and to cope with this process you need bags of self-assurance. 

Even then, you can't do it alone. It was evident just how essential the testimonies of my colleagues were, as were those of my former boss, with whom I still have good contact, the Kring van Hoofdredacteuren [the association for editors-in-chief in higher education], the Dutch Whistleblowers Authority, and many other people it's impossible for me to mention. Thank you, without you all there never would have been so much evidence. 

To people who see an abuse but turn a blind eye, because they dare not act or because they think that it won't change anything, I say this: reconsider that thought. Yes, it is grueling, but it is worth it. As a result of this case, in any event, Cursor's editorial statute is being amended, a new editorial board is being appointed and many more actions are advised by the committee to make TU/e the free and safer place a university should be.  

The editorial board's response 

The editorial board values and identifies with the committee's advice.   

The report that was made related primarily to the use of censorship. The committee finds that this was not the case.  

The committee also states that it can pass no judgment on the quality of the journalism and content of the publications in question. This must be respected. By contrast, the journalistic approach has always been at the heart of the advice given by the editorial board.   

When it was set up in 2022, the editorial board itself observed that there was a lack of clarity about the agreements between CvB and editor-in-chief. At the time, it was communicated to all the parties involved that this was a exceptional situation. The editorial board accepted the exceptional role in order to contribute to the new start that everyone wanted to make.  

It was for this reason that the guideline was drawn up. Both the guideline and the composition of the editorial board were agreed to by all directly involved parties. This was a precondition for the editorial board to be able to, and to wish to, fulfill its function.  

The committee observes correctly that the various measures designed to restore trust yielded insufficient results. Likewise, the editorial board itself had already observed this to be the case and it was the reason after 1 year (mid 2023) for advising that the deadlock, which had existed since 2020, be broken. That advice was necessary and relevant.  

The directly involved parties were advised not to let the situation continue. This was in the interests of creating a permanently healthy work situation. We regret that this was not experienced as such by the editorial team and that it hindered the team from performing its work.  

Incidentally, at the time, the editorial board offered to stand down in order to help Cursor continue to develop in the desired direction.  

Owing to the situation that has arisen, a number of essential steps have now been taken. The editorial board has great confidence in the change process that has been started under the leadership of the interim editor-in-chief. This will involve, as well as a new editorial board, a new editorial statute, in which the elements advised by the committee are fully endorsed. This will help create a permanently improved and future-proof Cursor.   


Frank Janssen  

President of Cursor's editorial board 

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