That’s what I thought when I read the news Saturday morning. Again.
Again there’s a case of sexual harassment at the UvA.
Again the faculty did nothing.
Again complaints were not heard.
Again there was external pressure needed to move the university.
Again the university claims that social safety is a priority at the UvA,
Again, they lie.
In November last year our community was appalled by a report in NRC Handelsblad. A professor at the Faculty of Law had sexually terrorized students and staff for years, and had gotten away with it. Everybody knew, yet no one dared to correct the mighty professor because yeah you know, his publications were numerous. And that’s the thing, that’s the only thing, that counts in this sick system.
‘Inappropriate behaviour will not be tolerated at the UvA’, they said when that report came out. Well if that were true, I wrote in a column, this couldn’t have happened. The problem is exactly that inappropriate behaviour was tolerated, is tolerated at the UvA. Managers got each other’s back and everybody knows that full professors are like the emperor in Star Wars: they have unlimited power.
Ronald Beltzer could have his way at the Faculty of Law, because publications are worth more than students’ safety. Research always trumps teaching at the neoliberal university.
The system wasn’t changed after this horrific scandal. Yes, there is now an ombuds person. But she seems to be working at a different university. ‘I notice that the style at the UvA is very open, that people are open to advice, and that problems are acknowledged’ she said in an interview with Folia last February, ‘the atmosphere is: how do we get all problems on the table?’
Are you kidding me? This is the same person who decided in December that there was no case at the master Conservation and Restoration. By then, it had already been seven years since the first student there contacted the study advisor about the behaviour of their teacher. In those long seven years that teacher made many more victims, who bravely and desperately tried to convince the department that their educational environment wasn’t safe. That their teacher sexually harassed them, touched them, made them sick: literally, sick. I had to read in my newspaper how yet another UvA teacher invoked burn-outs in his students, how the stress and fear led to panic attacks and long-term mental health problems.
This all happened, but ombuds person Jacqueline Schoone did nothing. She couldn’t get the students to contact her, she says. Well, maybe she should have tried to contact them? Just a suggestion. Because NRC reported that she never spoke with the students.
So again, students had to look outside for help. With Beltzer, is was an external law organ that came to the rescue. This time, it was a newspaper.
I knew the article was brewing, because I read Folia. On May 8 they wrote about the matter, because dean Fred Weerman had talked about it in his vlog. He said, ‘If NRC hadn’t written that article, I wouldn’t have made this vlog’. That’s weird. Of course, you need to safeguard the identity of accused employees, but it’s always a good idea to vlog about what students can do should they be victims of sexual violence.
So I knew, you knew, everybody knew that something was about to be published. So that means that the CvB had ample time to act. Time they could have used to make changes, or at least time that they could have used to prepare a proper response.
But, old habits die hard, as I wrote in my Folia column today. Instead of admitting guilt, the CvB decided to make things worse. Instead of humbly apologizing, they followed the now tested Trump tactic of shouting ‘fake news’ and accusing the newspaper that brought this issue to light.
It’s embarrassing. It’s an embarrassing response from people that should be embarrassed. It took the CvB a few days to realize that. It wasn’t until Tuesday that they finally issued an expression of guilt. But it’s too late lock the stable door after the horse has bolted. I don’t believe them. It’s just a different way of trying to do damage control.
In his vlog of May 7, dean Fred Weerman says that he sees no reason to change course. So why should we believe that things will be different with him now? On the website, the UvA again repeats that social safety is a top priority at this university. Why should I believe that, when the facts point towards the opposite? Today, in interview with Folia, rector Geert Ten Dam says that the conversations that the taskforce Social Safety had planned with all the faculties have been put on hold due to corona. How, forgive my Dunglish here, how I can rhyme that with safety being a top priority?
In the same interview Ten Dam says that the UvA didn’t act out of fear of reputation damage. Right, so then why involve your press officers?
She says that reputation damage isn’t on her mind with such matters. It should be. She should care about the sexism and sexual harassment happening at her university, and the racism as well by the way. And she should care about the reputation, about the image. Because at this moment, all of us, are embarrassed that this our university. Again.
I want the UvA to put their money where their mouth is. Read your communication values and act them out. These are, amongst others: Open and reliable. I want the UvA to practice them, I want the CvB to practice radical honesty.
Tell us the truth. Tell us that you lied about how important this is to you. Stand up to the fact that these cases are not incidents, but inherent to the culture. Admit that complaints have been trashed because this teacher’s position is just too strong.
It takes rebel scum to beat the empire, every Star Wars fan knows. So here we are, again. The competent rebels of the UvA. Here we are again, with Humanities Rally, with Diversity Forum UvA, with Red UvA, with the LSVb and with Asva. We are here to stand against the cover-up culture, to show that there’s no going back.
We don’t want to hear the same promises you made last year. Not again. For a change, we want to see real change.
This speech was delivered at the protest against the cover-up culture at the University of Amsterdam, organized by Humanities Rally, Diversity Forum UvA, Red UvA, LSVb and Asva.