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.
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.
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?
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.