Harassment, scientific sabotage widespread at Dutch universities

Intimidation, bullying and ‘scientific sabotage’ are common among staff at Dutch universities and colleges, according to two separate reports, both published on Monday.

The first, by researchers at Radboud University on behalf of the National Network of Women Professors (LNVH), is based on the experiences of 53 women in academic university roles and looks at six types of harassment, ranging from physical and sexual threats academic sabotage – whereby women were not given due credit for their work.

Many of the women in the survey were unsure if the treatment they received could be counted as harassment, the report said.

‘Harassment in academia seldom manifests itself as a single, isolated incident. Research participants hardly ever reported about one single remark, one single touch, or one single gesture. Rather, the harassment they experienced was structural and lasted for months, years or even decades,’ the report said.

The second report, by trade unions FNV and VAWO, is based on interviews with 1,110 university staff members, around one third of whom were support staff. That reportĀ  found bullying, exclusion, sexual intimidation and power abuse are common throughout the country’s 13 universities. Research staff were more likely to face problems than administrative workers.

In total, 29% of the people who took part in the union survey said they had been gossiped about, 44% had not been told relevant information deliberately and 35% said they had been the victim of a power struggle. Just under one third said they had been intimidated by a person in position of authority.


‘My work was plagiarised by a professor and I was told to keep quiet about it, or I would lose my job,’ one respondent said.

University association VNSU described the figures as ‘shocking’ and said the findings are being taken very seriously.

‘We want to provide a safe work environment,’ a spokesman said. ‘So we offer training, we have a complaints procedure… and we exchange experiences,’ he said.

Donald Pechler, chairman of the VAWO said the two reports mark the beginning of a process of awareness and recognition. ‘These situations should not be dismissed as one-off incidents,’ he said. ‘We hope that the employers will now be serious about creating a safe place to work.’

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