In June, an article in NRC Handelsblad accused Van den Boom of committing plagiarism – among other instances in her orations as rector of UvA and in her dissertation. The daily alleged that she had copied large swaths of text without citing the source. At the time, EM also reported that Van den Boom had appropriated passages without citing the author in a policy memorandum about the future of Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC).

The commission of inquiry, made up of professors Ton Hol (Utrecht University) and Marc Loth (Tilburg University), concluded that while Van den Boom had been ‘sloppy’, she had not committed plagiarism according to the then-prevailing standards for scientific integrity.

Review of the literature

In her 1988 dissertation, Van den Boom copied fragments of other people’s texts without citing the source. According to the commission, the passages in question are included in a review of the literature, in which it should be obvious to the reader that Van den Boom is not attempting to pass off other people’s insights as her own. “Although it is not always made clear – or sufficiently clear – in the dissertation which sections of text were written by the author and which have been taken from other people’s work, it is sufficiently clear throughout that the author is describing others’ contributions and has not appropriated and presented them as her own work.”

No plagiarism in ‘dies’ orations either

Nor has the commission encountered any instances of plagiarism in Van den Boom’s orations during the opening of the academic year at UvA. “The commission has established that the subject has not taken any ideas or unique insights developed by third parties that can make any claim to originality without explicitly referring to their source.” The commission excluded two orations from its review that were never published in written form. These orations are alleged to have contained longer passages of other people’s work.

Nor has the commission looked into Van den Boom’s policy memorandum about the future of ESHCC, written in early 2019. According to anonymous staff members, this document also incorporated third-party passages without citing the source.

‘Huge reputation damage’

In September, EUR’s Executive Board commissioned an investigation of ESHCC staff members’ e-mail exchanges in an effort to locate the source of the claims in the disputed NRC article. “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,” stated the Board in its announcement of the investigation. On Tuesday, an EUR spokesperson informed us that the Executive Board feels no need to respond to the contents of the UvA report.

Van der Boom herself did respond to the report, in the Tuesday edition of de Volkskrant. Throughout the inquiry, she was subject to a gag order. “I lost a lot of sleep over this – it’s one of the worst accusations that can be levied against you as a scientist,” she told the newspaper. “It has inflicted huge damage on my reputation.” The rules for citing sources were less strict in the 1980s, says the former dean. And as UvA rector, she did not write her own orations – this was done by the university’s Communication department.

NRC Handelsblad has also responded to the report: “Dymph van den Boom has […] repeatedly copied other people’s texts without including a correct source citation. It is curious that the commission does not qualify this method of working as plagiarism. Everyone else does.”