During the meeting, the student members, staff members and the Council chair read out statements criticising the investigation in no uncertain terms. “An investigation like this undermines mutual trust, as well as people’s trust in the management and senior executives,” said John van Wel, chair of the Council’s staff section. Jordie van der Burgt, the chair of the student section, agreed with his colleague: “I call on the Executive Board to share the arguments underlying their decision with us, and to acknowledge the gravity of the situation and the impact this measure has had.”

'Restoring trust'

Council chair Hans van den Berg subsequently summed up six requests that had been submitted to the Executive Board. The University Council wants the Executive Board to clarify on which legal grounds the investigation had been ordered. Van den Berg asked the Board to respond to the open letter signed by over 500 scientists. In addition, the regulations would have to be re-evaluated, to prevent a similar situation from arising in the future.

The Council also proposed mandating an independent body like the University Council or the Supervisory Board to assess the need for these kinds of investigation beforehand. The council also requested further clarity about its participatory rights as far as students and staff members’ privacy is concerned. And finally, it asked the Executive Board to draw up a plan for restoring the academic community’s trust in the university administration.

'We find the turmoil regrettable'

Engels promised the Board would reply to the Council’s requests in an upcoming letter. In response to the statements read out by the Council members, Engels said that the Executive Board acknowledges that the e-mail investigation has had quite an impact. “We find the turmoil caused by this matter deeply regrettable – particularly since the investigation was actually intended to create a safe work environment. Many people have said that as a measure, this investigation was disproportionate.” When he was asked by the Council whether he agreed that this measure was disproportionate, the rector answered in the negative.

Engels does not believe that the Executive Board should have consulted the University Council beforehand about the investigation. “The Council has a right of endorsement with regard to the policy itself – not to its implementation.” He did confirm that he intended to examine what the University Council’s rights are exactly. He stressed that the Executive Board has learned a great deal from people’s responses to this matter, and promised they would be taking these experiences on board if a case like this presented itself in the future. And finally, Engels announced the university would be organising two public debates on the subject of social safety.

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