UG wants to fire advocate for social safety because of damaged working relationship

The Groningen university wants to fire social safety expert Susanne Täuber. Täuber says they’re discriminating against her. Nonsense, says the UG, she’s acting against her own best interests. The case went to court last Friday.

One thing was clear: Täuber isn’t alone. The courtroom was filled with students and colleagues who’d come to support her. There’s a good reason for this: the associate professor is known as a champion of social safety at the university.

Driving force

She studies the mechanism behind exclusion and discrimination and was one of the driving forces behind the report Harassment at the University of Groningen by the Young Academy Groningen. This report exposed how victims of discrimination and harassment at the UG are often blamed for what happened to them.

As a member of the university council, she often put the topic on meeting agendas. She’s also part of the national advisory committee of diversity and inclusion in higher education and research, appointed by the ministry of Education, Culture and Science. Now she is at risk of being fired. 

Damaged relationship

During the hearing, both parties agreed on one thing: the relationship between Täuber and her employer is so damaged that she cannot continue to work at the Faculty of Economics and Business (FEB). Might there be room elsewhere at the university? Or should the UG be allowed to fire her because of the damaged working relationship? 

Täuber’s lawyer said she should be allowed to stay. During her conflict with the university, which has been ongoing for five years, she’s been discriminated against more than once, the lawyer said. For one, she was passed over for promotion in 2018, when she allegedly met all the requirements. 

Critical essay

Things went further awry when, in 2019, Täuber published a critical essay in the Journal of Management Studies (JMS) about gender equality initiatives. She used her own experience as a Rosalind Franklin fellow and wrote how projects like these can actually work against women. 

‘That article caused a lot of bad blood’, her lawyer said. So much so, in fact, that she was unable to continue her work in a normal fashion. Therefore, the university should do everything it can to employ Täuber at a different department. 

Breach of trust

But the UG sees it differently. According to the university’s lawyer, it was Täuber who caused a strained relationship with her faculty. She allegedly accused two of her supervisors of discrimination without the evidence to back it up.

The university also says she didn’t stick to agreements and didn’t cooperate with an improvement process. Her attitude supposedly ‘didn’t allow any discussion about where her work was going.’

All of this led to a breach of trust, said FEB dean Peter Verhoef. After the JMS article was published, Täuber and FEB had a few ‘really good conversations’ about how to proceed.

Retroactively promoted

They reached an agreement that Täuber would be retroactively promoted. Verhoef also wanted to speed up the process to make her a full professor. However, to do so, he needed to ‘set a process at the department in motion’. 

Before he could do so, Täuber’s lawyer sent him a letter saying she disagreed with the arrangement. ‘Reading this, there was clearly a basis for you to amiably continue. But before the university can come up with a proposal, they get a letter from your lawyer’, the judge addressed Täuber. ‘What happened?’

Academic freedom

According to Täuber, the arrangement forbade her from writing pieces like the one she published in JMS. ‘I very clearly said that I wouldn’t be forfeiting my academic freedom’, she said during the court hearing.

After that, Täuber rarely showed up at the faculty, but continued working. She also went looking for other job opportunities at the university. The University College looked like a good option, but ultimately fell through. Täuber says FEB interfered. The UG says she declined the offer.

It’s interesting that the UG maintains that Täuber wasn’t discriminated against at FEB, since it published a harrowing report in 2021: discrimination of women and internationals was all too common at the faculty.  

Now, the question remains whether the UG should try even harder to find employment elsewhere for her, or whether she can be fired. The court will make its decision on March 3.

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