The recent Pano-report on abuse of power in Flemish universities once again drew attention to a painful wound in the academic world. At our university, a culture exists in which transgressive behaviour and abuse of power can thrive. Moreover, it once again became apparent how slowly and restrictively the university top reacts to abuses, certainly when it comes to influential professors.
ACOD notes that this problem is unfortunately not new. The rector's announcement of the creation of an external hotline is a first step, but this proposal does not go far enough. Not only must this contact point be able to guarantee absolute confidentiality, but there must also be certainty that problems will be dealt with by university management.
We therefore believe that this external reporting point must be set up by the external prevention advisor, for complaints from both staff and students. This prevention advisor has a legally protected professional secrecy, and the Belgian Welfare Act obliges the university top to provide an effective follow up to tackle the problems that are being signaled. If it does not do so, university management can even be prosecuted. This safeguard is necessary.
In this way, an external reporting point can offer absolute guarantees of confidentiality, and the university management can also be obliged to take effective action in the event of complaints. Often, the problem is not that there are no complaints. The problem is that there is not enough follow-up: problems are not solved.
However, this is not our only proposal. In total, we come up with 6 concrete action points.
Here are all the proposals in a row:
- External and independent hotline: the external prevention service. An external and independent reporting point is necessary, but not sufficient in itself. There must also be a guarantee that something will be done with the reports. The Beglian Welfare Act gives an external prevention service the means to oblige management to take action: in addition to staff, also students should be given the possibility to go directly to the external prevention service, and moreover, it should be actively and widely publicized how this can be done in practice.
- Improvements to the disciplinary regulations: no longer put the decision to institute proceedings in the hands of the rector or vice-rector. Inform victims about all the steps of the procedure.
- Better support and follow-up of victims: provide better guidance and support for victims: mental support, but also help with the ongoing procedures. Inform them about the steps taken and protect them from reprisals.
- Strengthen the statutes of junior researchers: finally provide a real legal status for fellows, so they can also count on better social protection. Put an end to the cheap fake statutes that are a problem especially for foreign researchers.
- A safe workplace for everyone, need for information and education: limit the dependence on supervisors and managers, and break through the culture of silence. Address inappropriate behaviour, regardless of position or influence, and establish a clear code of ethics. Bring about a cultural shift
- Less competitive and more core funding for higher education: stop the dependence on external, competitive funding and the cut-throat competition between academics. More resources for sound education and research, and support for researchers.
In the attachment to this article, we discuss these 6 action points in more detail.