This spring, two alarming reports appeared about sexual harassment and harassment in the university world. One was from trade unions FNV and VAWO. They claimed that four in ten university employees suffers from bullying, gossip, exclusion or abuse of power.

The other report was from the Dutch Network of Women Professors (LNVH) and contained testimonies from over fifty female academics on their harassment experiences. These included obstruction of scientific practice, sexual harassment, physical and verbal threats, insults and exclusion.

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Expose the issue

The trade unions argued that perhaps an independent national complaints committee should be established to expose the problems. Opposition party PvdA asked the Minister whether she thought this was a good idea.

The Minister answered that she didn’t think it was a solution. For now, she doesn’t want to get involved in how universities address this. This is partly because the two reports mentioned have resulted in misconduct currently being a focus point within the universities. According to her, Administrators are now taking the problem seriously.

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No solution

Four universities are currently working with ombudspersons, and an evaluation of this work will be published in December. But the Minister emphasised in advance of this evaluation “that an ombudsperson does not form a panacea to resolve harassment.”

Van Engelshoven is in discussions with the LNVH and scientific community KNAW regarding possible research into preventing and addressing harassment. She does see a relationship with scientific policy and scientific integrity.

“The culture within universities needs to change in the long term in order to prevent misconduct,” she wrote. “I also hope that my efforts to make the university system less competitive through promoting collaboration will have a positive impact on the general culture within universities in the long term.”

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