The Executive Board believes such suspicions of plagiarism should have been addressed by other means. “This would have allowed us to carefully look into these allegations, while respecting the privacy of the people involved.” To determine who actually contacted NRC with the story, the university decided to hire the services of a forensic research bureau. It has not communicated which specific firm it has contracted.

The investigation is already underway, but it remains unclear which activities the bureau is engaged in exactly. EUR informs us that the investigation may be “based on the Regulations governing use of internet and IT facilities for staff members at Erasmus University Rotterdam”. According to these regulations, in exceptional cases the university is allowed to inspect the contents of employees’ email inboxes. This purview does not extend to messages that have been marked ‘private’ or ‘confidential’.

The university emphasised that “all privacy rules will naturally be observed” and “the staff members in question have been notified”. It is not clear which consequences it could have if the leak were identified.

A culture of fear?

Things have been brewing at Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC) for some time now. Many staff members were unhappy about the handling of the proposed merger with the ESSB faculty. Interim dean Van der Boom was accused of plagiarism, and she stepped down soon after. The university then ordered an evaluation of the internal culture at ESHCC after receiving “clear indications of tensions and division”.

And now the university wants to look into the accusations of plagiarism made in the article in NRC Handelsblad. “This article has given rise to discussions, created an unsafe atmosphere and is highly damaging to the individual in question. Indeed, the Executive Board takes this matter extremely seriously,” write the board members.

ESHCC: shocked

The news of this external investigation was received with dismay within ESHCC, according to Ana Uribe Sandoval, Chair of the Faculty Council. “This announcement comes as a shock,” says Uribe Sandoval. “We’ve just started our best academic year so far. We’ve welcomed a record number of students, landed several sizeable grants over the summer and were ready to work on the future of our faculty.”

The new interim dean Frank van der Duijn Schouten notified the faculty staff of the investigation last Tuesday – while they were celebrating his birthday, incidentally. The staff members who are being investigated had already been informed at that point. “Right now, we are taken aback by the news and extremely concerned. We have more questions than answers. Does this happen often? Is it actually legal? What will the consequences be?” wonders Uribe Sandoval.

What surprised her most of all was the Executive Board’s assertion that the alleged leak has created an atmosphere of insecurity and suspicion. In her view, it is precisely the news of the investigation itself that has led to feelings of unsafety among the staff.