Professor Joost Herman contests dismissal
UG stands fast in NOHA court case
His argument followed the judge’s persistent questioning as to why the university hadn’t reached a settlement with Herman. ‘As an employer, the university is allowed to decide that lines have been crossed’, said Lacevic.
The court suggested that a settlement would have kept the case out of the media and wouldn’t have damaged Herman’s reputation as much as it has. But the UG said it wasn’t that simple, as it also could have led to the suspicion that the university was trying to keep the situation a secret.
Herman’s attorney Ageeth Kootstra also stated in a full courtroom that she was unwilling to figure things out with the university. Many of Herman’s colleagues had come to courthouse in a show of support for the dismissed professor. They feel the dismissal is a draconian measure that ignores Herman’s years of service to the university.
According to the UG, Herman clearly broke the rules, as he set up the private foundation Stichting NOHA Groningen (SNG) without the UG’s knowledge. He then used the money, which the UG says should have been spent at the university, outside the UG’s purview.
Lacevic argued that whether or not Herman actually used the money for the NOHA programme has no bearing on the case. ‘The money didn’t belong to Herman; neither professionally, nor through the foundation. As an employee, you’re not to touch your employer’s money. As such, the established facts led to the dissolution of the employment contract.’
Attorney Kootstra argues on Herman’s behalf that even before the EY Forensics investigation started, he was demonstrably suffering from a burnout and in the early phases of a deep depression. ‘This has been confirmed by the occupational health physician, his GP, and a psychiatrist.’
The manner in which the UG suspended Herman in March of 2019, after which they barely contacted him, supposedly contributed to his condition. Kootstra said this means Herman is unable to work, which means he cannot be fired.
Remarkably, board president Jouke de Vries was absent during the court session. ‘I had assumed he would be here’, the judge said. ‘It’s interesting that he would give an interview to the NRC yet not show up here to provide a clarification.’
Lacevic explained that bringing arts faculty manager Wouter Heinen had been a better idea, since he knew more about the state of affairs at the faculty.
A verdict will take at least four weeks, said the judge, but the complexity of the case might delay it.
‘I’m happy that I was able to say my piece for the first time in a year, in the presence of people who know me’, Herman said about the hearing afterwards. ‘I was able to explain that I didn’t take the money. Every single cent made it to the UG.’
He also felt strengthened by how the hearing went. ‘I’m glad the judge asked several critical questions. It’s encouraging that he’s taking the human factor into consideration. That was completely lacking in how the UG treated me.’