More than a hundred UG employees went to the ombudsperson since she started in September of 2021. At least three quarters of their reports concerned the lack of social safety, many of these reports originating from the arts faculty. Most reports from students came from the UMCG.
By Christien Boomsma and Giulia Fabrizi
According to ombudsperson Carolijn Winnubst’s first annual report, no fewer than seventy-five of the 103 reports concerned toxic work cultures. Examples include unclear, non-transparent decision-making processes, procedures, or responsibilities, where no one takes the lead in an effort to solve problems.
These situations likely arise because managers don’t know what they’re supposed to do and don’t receive sufficient support. ‘The university culture also plays a role; not everyone is accustomed (yet) to engaging one another in meaningful conversation’, Winnubst writes.
Interestingly enough, a large number of reports comes from the arts faculty. No fewer than twenty-five of its staff members went to the ombudsperson. ‘Part of their complaints formed the basis of an unsolicited recommendation’, the report says. This means the ombudsperson makes recommendations on a situation without being asked to do so. This recommendation is usually issued to the supervisors of the level above the one where the problem is taking place.
The ombudsperson also received complaints from twenty-seven students, most of them from the UMCG. ‘Medical interns are in an especially vulnerable position’, Winnubst concludes. ‘They are largely dependent on their programme leaders and affiliate coordinators or examiners and are afraid to speak up.’
The ombudsperson also identified a few issues with her own position. Her recommendations aren’t binding, which means her advice is only followed partially, if at all. A lack of capacity means she’s been unable to start independent investigations into issues. But it’s that power that separates her from confidential adviser Marjolein Renker.
Lastly, she’s noticed that internationals are a particularly vulnerable group. The multiculturality can make it harder for people to understand each other and is often a contribution factor for the problems people come to her about. ‘With some exceptions, it’s striking how little awareness there is for this issue at the university’, she writes. ‘We should increase awareness and our intercultural skills to create a more inclusive work and study environment.’
The university council was supposed to discuss the report this Thursday during the monthly meeting of the council and the board of directors. However, the council received a report at the start of May to which revisions had already been made.
It’s remarkable that these changes were made at all. The ombudsperson regulations state that the board of directors, the council, and the employee organisation all receive the report at the same time. But in this particular case, the board got access to the report before the other organisations did.
During the committee meeting on May 11, the council expressed how unhappy it was with the situation. The procedure is deliberately set up to prevent any of the organisations from unilaterally influencing the report, to protect the ombudsperson’s independence.
Conflict of interest
To prevent any and all appearance of a conflict of interest, the council asked to see both the original document and the revised version. The board promised to send both of them so the council could see which revisions had been made.
The board and the council will discuss both versions – the current public one and the earlier version which was revised slightly after the board of directors had some questions – in confidence. Afterwards, they’ll discuss the final report in a public meeting.