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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  1. In my time working with Susanne Täuber I have known her to be a rigorous scholar and a dedicated and compassionate colleague. She deserves the full support of the institution.

  2. Susanne Taüber’s research and work on social safety within the University of Groningen have been vital. Her research has given voice to many who have been experiencing harassment and discrimination across different faculties within RuG. She has spoken up for unsafe work practices within the institution under circumstances in which speaking up comes at great personal and professional costs. Her courage, her sense of integrity, her efforts of bringing scientific harassment and discrimination into the public eye recommend her as a mature academic leader, one that an institution such as RuG urgently needs. Susanne Taüber’s work represents everything that is still good within academia. We need her to continue doing the work she has been doing in ways that protect her and bring her the recognition she deserves.

    • Have you even read the report?? I was laughing for a week. Isolated cases taken out of context and exaggerated just to try to create a “problem” is not scientific research; perhaps it could be considered propaganda if anything. I remember reading the report and not even paying attention on WHO where the people behind it, as it should be anytime you read a report and want to stay independent. Even after reading the report I did not know who this person was, and now I not only know her name and story but her name appears on news and flyers everywhere. I think she just run a very effective and lucrative marketing campaign using us all (the RUG) as pawns.

      • Thank you for illustrating the exact problems at play here. You were laughing at people describing how they were discriminated and intimidated by others in position of power? And you’re assuming that at least one of those people is doing this purely for their own financial gain? Does not get tiring to just assume the worst in people?

      • These are not isolates cases. These is systemic. It’s like using the excuse of one racism incidence does not mean that society is racist. Stop gaslighting our experience. We are not paranoid. Go and do some reading about race and mental health.

  3. Wanting to have this woman fired is a deliberate violation of academic freedom. I don’t think the University understands how serious this is. You can’t call yourself a real academic institute if you allow a few angry professors to brush aside the main foundation of academia. This might turn out to be a bigger mess than Yantai.

    • @Tootless Fairy. Exactly. If you file a complaint at your workplace stating that you have experienced discrimination and are then accused of creating an unsafe work environment, how can anyone ever complain of discrimination?

  4. Tauber’s important work, designed to improve working conditions and to making the UG a safer, more egalitarian, and more inclusive working environment should be heralded. We need to stop punishing critical voices at this university and instead take them seriously for the progressive reform they attempt to stimulate. Täuber is an important asset to this university and deserves a permanent position as well as appreciation for her important role in bringing about this change.

  5. How can we make progress if we silence all critical voices. My support is with Susanne Täuber. The current governance needs to be improved.

    • @Ursi You are absolutely right. My support is with Susanne Tauber too.
      The case of Ms. Tauber and that of Sujatha de Poel are uncannily similar.
      Susanne Tauber did excellent research and had the courage to publish the findings of the YAG Report: Harassment at The University of Groningen. Ms. de Poel’s case was a carbon copy of the YAG Report on Harassment. De Poel is an international and worked previously at the FEB. Like Ms. Tauber, she had the courage to speak out. Therefore, her career was willfully destroyed using just about all the tactics Tauber describes in the YAG Report.
      For previous articles on Ms. de Poel and to see how FEB uses exactly the same tactics repeatedly ad nauseum as they do now with Ms. Tauber, have a look at the articles below which appeared in the UK as well as the Dagblad van Het Noorden. UK Articles here: ‘Punished for Speaking Out’ May 2017, and ‘Careers Company Contract Conflict’ 11 April 2017. DVHN articles “Arbeidsconflict bij RUG Na Kritiek Op Beleid” 10 april 2017, and “Academie Onder Hoogspanning” 24 June 2017.
      This is what the university does to women of courage who have the integrity and guts to speak out, so that things can change. But apparently, that’s exactly what the university does NOT want, for things to change and get better regarding mobbing and intimidation. Otherwise they would not get rid of the messengers, over and over. Both Ms. de Poel and Ms. Tauber are outstanding in their fields and bring years of experience and knowledge to the table, and were well loved by students and colleagues alike.
      But you are only a “good employee” at the university if you keep your mouth shut. And this is how talented women’s’ careers are destroyed by a backward, toxic and sycophantic culture, that engages in self-serving box-ticking and marketing mantras about diversity and inclusivity. Who do they think they’re fooling? A truly pathetic state of affairs. In both the above cases it’s clearly been a massive loss for the students, who loved and had the utmost respect for them.
      Indeed, when they stood up for the very principles the university claims to stand for, Tauber and de Poel were removed from their positions in the most barbaric horrendous way. These brave women had everything to lose by speaking out, and they did it anyway. It is more than obvious who had courage. And who is the coward.
      The stories of Susanne Tauber and Sujatha de Poel will continue to echo through the corridors of every faculty, and their stories will continue to be known, remembered and discussed.

      • Yes indeed. This is about the gorilla glass ceiling. Equal access to power, resources and privileges. This is now the second glass ceiling successful women face. It is horrendous what our university leadership is willing to do to cover up real damage. It would be much better for all to document all cases and start a real discussion about how to make it better. We are wasting so much financial and Human Resources and we need to empower woman who have a track record in speaking out. Currently the power is to divide women and employ women who do not have the strength to push for change. I know out of experience that this is hard and in my case I am at the end of a very successful career. Still it is hard …
        See several news items here
        Some documents have been removed by ETH even though the details of my reprimand should be published according to my lawyer (i.e. no confidential info because the president is a public figure).


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