In the summer of 2016, the 63-year-old Professor of Educational Science, F.D., had invited the student – under false pretences – to accompany him to the scientific congress in Barcelona, according to several Flemish news media. They were supposed to give a presentation together, but that did not happen. He raped her in the apartment he had rented there.
“The acts reveal a sick mind and a flagrant lack of respect for the victim, for whom the acts were particularly traumatic”, wrote De Morgen, quoting from the court judgment of last Thursday.
No formal complaint
In 2016, the student contacted a confidential counsellor at the university but did not make a formal complaint at the time. The dean of the faculty and the university ombudsman were apparently informed as well. According to the newspaper Het Belang van Limburg, a conversation subsequently took place with the professor, who denied everything. He was allowed to continue teaching and supervise students.
The judgment states that he continued to send messages to the severely traumatised student. In 2018, she contacted the university again and made a complaint to the police. Although a judicial investigation was launched, the professor was allowed to finish the academic year.
No disciplinary measures
According to KU Leuven Rector Luc Sels, this understandably gives rise to questions, but the examining magistrate had at that stage ordered the university not to take disciplinary measures against the professor. “Any form of mandatory measure would have made it clear that ‘something’ was going on and could have led to loss of evidence”, he writes.
Only in September 2018 was KU Leuven able to deny the professor access to the campus, says Sels, and to prohibit him from having any more contact with students. Now that the judgment has been handed down, the university can impose a heavier sanction on the professor, such as dismissal.
The Rector acknowledges that the current procedures are not sufficient to combat inappropriate behaviour. He plans to evaluate the policy, improve communications, offer training courses and amend the disciplinary regulations.
This morning, the Flemish magazine P revealed the name of the professor. He worked “until at least 2005” at Maastricht University, where no reports of inappropriate behaviour have so far been made. HOP was unable to reach the university spokesperson this morning. He was also a guest lecturer at Fontys University of Applied Sciences and was scheduled to give a lecture at Radboud University Nijmegen in December.
According to De Morgen, F.D. had had a dubious reputation since the 1990s. The judgment apparently says that in March 2010 students had complained about him to the university ombudsman. As they were unwilling to make a formal complaint, it was not possible to do more than warn the professor “to avoid such conduct in the future”.
At the beginning of this year, all kinds of stories started circulating at Flemish higher education institutions about abuse of power and inappropriate behaviour. Education Minister Ben Weyts announced that an external hotline for victims was to be set up. The hotline is due to be in operation in the summer of 2023.
Critics are calling on university boards in Flanders to do more to introduce the necessary reforms and “to respond as courageously as the women who bring these scandals to light”.