In 2015, eleven students and twenty employees registered a complaint with a confidential counsellor. The common theme in the reason for complaint: men, men, men.

Whether confronted with sexual harassment, bullying or aggression: EUR students and employees can contact one of the two confidential counsellors, Lucienne van Hooijdonk and Martin Blok (see box). The pair offers support in the event of incidents, offering a listening ear, for instance, and helping to find solutions.

The confidential counsellors’ annual report showed that there were 31 reports of 56 grievances in 2015. The figures also indicate that it is mainly women who experience problems caused by men.

Students: reduction in complaints

Among students, most (5) problems concerned ‘welfare’ (for example being bullied), followed by ‘digital or sexual harassment’ (4) and ‘aggression’ (3). In 10 cases, the reason was other students; lecturers and support staff were the cause of only 2 complaints. In almost all cases, the problem was resolved between the parties; in one case, the student wanted to submit the complaint to the Complaints Committee.

In previous years, the number of complaints (both the number of submitters as well as the complaint total) was higher: respectively 20 and 22 students reported grievances to a confidential counsellor in 2014 and 2013. In those years, employees (10 and 12 times) were the main reason for the complaints.

The distribution over the sexes, however, has not changed: it is mainly female students who turn to the confidential counsellor, and it is mainly men who are the reason for the complaints.

Employees: increased complaints

Among employees, the number of complaints increased: 20 people reported a problem, compared with 10 and 13 in 2014 and 2013. Of all reports in 2015 (41), communication problems (14 times) were most prevalent, followed by 10 cases of digital or sexual harassment. In 2014 and 2013, there were respectively 16 and 17 complaints. As is the case with students, it is mainly women that experience harassment.

Almost always (in the 2015 – 2013 period, respectively 15, 9 and 9 times) men were the reason for the complaint. In 2015, this mainly involved male managers. Victims often reported that they felt they were treated without respect or were treated in an intimidating way. The confidential counsellors conclude that poor communications, mostly by the accused, ‘combined with a lack of assertiveness’ formed a source of conflict, after which the employee believes that there is a conflict.

In one case, there was an issue of ‘serious sexual misconduct’. According to the annual report, this ended in a remarkable way: “The person reporting the incident decided not to lodge a complaint, but to return to his/her own country.”

Vulnerable doctoral students

As the current confidential counsellors have only been active for three years, they prefer not to point out any trends. They do note, however, that at other universities, employees rather than students submit complaints more often. They also conclude that, compared with the total number of students at EUR, the number of complaints is low. According to them, this could be because of the low number of confidential counsellors. In Delft and Wageningen, there are relatively more counsellors and the number of complaints is also higher.

Doctoral students are particularly ‘vulnerable’ according to the writers, because they are often isolated (as in the case of international students) and because they are very dependent on their supervisors. This problem is now already understood in most faculties, and there are measures to prevent grievances. Another problem area is the EUR Holding; the collection of commercial companies within EUR. More incidents are actually reported here than elsewhere. The Holding is therefore working to introduce better procedures and has appointed its own confidential counsellor.

Financial integrity

The confidential counsellors concluded the annual report with a few observations and recommendations. According to them, increased cultural diversity results in more vulnerable groups, and thus an increased risk of isolation and discrimination. “To limit these risk factors, more preventive measures must be taken to recognise these risks and focus attention on these.”

An increased focus on improving how managers handle their staff is also advised. “The confidential counsellors are in favour of compulsory management training courses for managers regarding coaching qualities.” Finally, they propose an increased focus on integrity issues (such as financial fraud), a problem about which few complaints are made.

The final collation and analysis of the 2016 figures is still taking place. However, when asked, the confidential counsellors reported that the initial results indicate that more students have made complaints. Whether this is because of an increase in problems or the increased prominence of their existence, still needs to be determined.

Martin Blok en Lucienne van Hooijdonk
Martin Blok en Lucienne van Hooijdonk

About the Confidential Counsellors at EUR

Two confidential counsellors work at Erasmus University Rotterdam: Lucienne van Hooijdonk (also university psychologist at Woudestein) and Martin Blok (also Welfare Officer at the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague). Their work comprises three task areas: identifying and offering support in the event of personal grievances, focusing on signals that indicate unwanted conduct (including offering solicited and unsolicited advice to the responsible managers), and support for administrators and managers if grievances occur in their team. Both spend some eight hours per month on this position, in which they are accountable directly to the Executive Board.