Scientific Integrity Coordinator, Stijn Reijnders, from ESHCC was one of the employees whose e-mail was investigated. “I think it’s a positive step that the Executive Board has offered its apologies to all those involved and that they recognise that the Hoffman investigation was, as they euphemistically stated, ‘not the best choice’.”
The reason for the investigation was an article in the NRC newspaper, in which former ESHCC Dean, Dymph van den Boom, was accused of plagiarism. The Executive Board had suspicions that employees from the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (EHSCC) were the source of these accusations. Hoffman Bedrijfsrecherche (private investigators) was engaged to determine the NRC journalist’s source. The mailboxes of 22 employees were investigated, without anything being found.
This generated a storm of criticism towards the Executive Board. They stated that they were acting in the best interests of the university in wanting to create a safe working climate to prevent employees from being judged in a trial by media. According to the Executive Board, the continuous unrest resulted in it being impossible to conclude the case. The Executive Board did, however, emphasise that, at the time of the decision, they considered the Hoffmann investigation to be a legitimate choice. With hindsight, the Executive Board thinks differently about this.
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Plagiarism and investigation at the ESHCC
How a plagiarism case at the ESHCC led to a 'sick culture' and an e-mail investigation…
“During its last meeting, the University Council lodged a substantial cri de coeur: please Executive Board, look at this again, because we want to bring this to a conclusion in a good way”, stated interim Executive Board Chair, Hans Smits. “Nobody was happy with this situation. This will also negatively influence the atmosphere. As Executive Board, we then decided to offer our apologies.” Smits considers that, with this apology, the case is now closed. In a letter to the University Council, he emphasised certain, already decided measures would be implemented, such as examining the ICT regulations, organising debates about social safety and establishing an independent committee to check similar investigations in advance.
Step in the right direction
In recent months, the University Council regularly pushed for an apology. “Central to the council was and is the impact of the investigation on the Erasmian Community as a whole”, responded Chair, Hans van den Berg. “During the last consultation it became clear that there was no closure yet, something that is crucial in order to move forward together.”The Council stated that it values the apology and calls it a ‘be a step in the right direction towards rebuilding mutual trust within the community’.
The ESHCC Faculty Council is also pleased with the apology ‘following months of uncertainty’, stated Chair, Ana Uribe Sandoval. “However, we would have liked to see one that was less bound to considerations, in order to perceive it as more sincere. I hope that we will never find ourselves in a situation like this again, and that this precedent will help the university community to push even further for clearer regulation and better governance. Finally, it is very good to see that participatory bodies can get satisfactory responses from the Board and that there is space for dialogue.”