News analysis: UG board’s response to social safety situation is too little, too late

The UG board sent an email to all students and staff on Friday, responding for the first time to the commotion caused by the dismissal of social safety expert Susanne Täuber. However, the response appears to be too little, too late.

Ever since the case against social safety expert Susanne Täuber went to court in February, staff and students have been wondering if they can safely report abuses at the UG. If they can be openly critical of the institute without fearing for their academic career.

These are questions asked by an academic community worried about social safety and academic freedom. Questions the university failed to answer for weeks, making people repeat them more loudly every time.

What started as personal support for Täuber during and after her court case turned into a petition to reverse her firing, signed by thousands of people, several letters to the UKrant editors (as well as hundreds of comments on the site), various protests, and last week, a letter from the General Union of Educational Personnel to ScienceGuide that argues that the UG is violating academic freedom.


The board of directors finally responded for the first time last week, after weeks of deafening silence. In an email to students and staff, the board used platitudes to say that it couldn’t comment on personnel issues, but that academic freedom and social safety were (obviously) a priority.

It’s obvious that managers can’t respond to questions about the case. After all, the board isn’t allowed to publicly comment on personnel matters. Besides, there’s a good chance the case will be appealed, which means the university won’t (and can’t) comment.

But there’s a different problem: the UG board’s silence only led to more agitation. The academic community asked them to acknowledge the socially unsafe structures within the university. After all, these problems aren’t new; they were included in, among other things, critical reports by the Faculty of Economics and Business and the Young Academy Groningen in 2021.

Cultural change

No one is to blame for the fact that the board can’t solve these issues in a hot minute. Like rector Cisca Wijmenga has repeatedly said during university council meetings: it’s a cultural change that involves everyone at the university. Also, the fact that work has been done to improve the places people reported the abuse is one of the current board’s achievements.

But the board needs to keep in mind that their response sets the tone for the rest of the university. The board staying silent for weeks on these kinds of issues makes it seem as though the community’s concerns aren’t important. As though people are just being whiny.

That’s insidious. Various people who spoke up during the AmINext campaign in support of Susanne Täuber were told by their superiors that they needed to shut up, that talking about the Täuber case and anything related to it is causing too much of a commotion at work.

Current affairs

However, the members of the university council did pick up on the concerns. They repeatedly asked the board when it would respond to the commotion. Board president Jouke de Vries essentially said the same thing as last week’s email: they couldn’t comment on current affairs, but that these issues were obviously very important.

Couldn’t and shouldn’t the board have said this earlier? In their own words, a personally missive from a concerned board to a concerned community? Couldn’t the board have addressed the concerned staff and students sooner?

Taken seriously

If they had, the community would have felt heard and taken seriously. If the board had addressed them sooner, first-year students would have told them that they didn’t know where to go if they didn’t feel safe, and perhaps they wouldn’t have felt the need to occupy the Academy building in order to have that conversation.

If the board had dared to be a little more open and vulnerable, it would have been a big step in the direction of the cultural change they so desire.

Read more:



  1. The email sent out was yet another encounter with what does not want to be moved, an x-ray of the brick wall so many have been coming up against.

    It felt saddening and disheartening to read the email. It took away hope that there could ever be the willingness and potential to change things for the better.

    An email so removed from reality, so intent on denying what is happening.

    I have tried to imagine what an honest dialogue could look like about what has been happening – the things that have been escalating in the public eye in the past months, the things that have been happening behind closed doors for many years now.

    In that exercise of imagination, I would dare start the dialogue by asking: “Are you scared? Are you scared to hear what people are saying: the protesters, the Occupy students, anyone who has ever filed a complaint within the institution?”

    I would add: “It is okay to be scared. Everyone is. Everyone who has ever been speaking up and standing up for social safety within the institution has been scared. We are all scared.’

    I would reassure: “Mistakes are allowed. We all make mistakes and we all have the right to make mistakes. It feels safe to me to be able to talk about mistakes, take responsibility for them so that there is learning and growth from mistakes and one can develop the muscle to do better when the next occasion to do better arises.’

    In that exercise of imagination, It would seem fair – instead of the email we have all received – to read “we personally do not have the tools to understand what is happening; we find it too hard to hear those who are critical of us; we fear changing the status quo; we fear losing our power, our positions, our sense of control; maybe, we do not want to change anything at all and even if we did, we just do not know how; maybe we need more time, for us to go to the books, go to the know-how so that we can at least try to do better for those who feel and are excluded from this institution.” Anything along these lines would have felt much safer, much fairer and more honest to read.

    I’ve kept repeating to myself my own ‘protection mantra’ – the words of one of my mentors who once said: “Academia is about people. If you don’t care about people, you cannot care about the academic work they do.”

    I wish so much there would have been something in that email – anything at all – that would have come anywhere close to an academia that is about people, an academia who cares about people.

    I would end my exercise of imagination by saying: “There is no need for ‘social safety’ exercised as a form of public relations. There is no need for PR tactics in any communication about social safety. Social safety is not about generating the right image for the UG. Naming things does not bring them into effect. And what Sara Ahmed said: “the very appearance of a transformation, […] is what stops something from happening.” Writing emails, writing documents is never a substitute for action and should never be used as evidence of ‘we have done it’.”

    I feel that even worse than not having a reaction at all, was to receive that email.


De spelregels voor reageren: blijf on topic, geen herhalingen, geen URLs, geen haatspraak en beledigingen. / The rules for commenting: stay on topic, don't repeat yourself, no URLs, no hate speech or insults.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here