Letter to the editor

‘I am concerned about my colleagues and our working conditions’

Jan Schiereck, staff member at TU Delft’s Innovation & Impact Centre, is concerned about his ‘colleagues and our working conditions’, he writes in this letter.

(Photo: Justyna Botor)

The Director of the Innovation & Impact Centre (I&IC) has left, wrote the Executive Board in an email to all staff at TU Delft on 28 February. At a meeting on 7 March, the I&IC staff members heard that an interim director will be appointed. The members of the Management Team (MT) had discussed this with the Rector and the HR Director.

The MT was supposed to inform us on the status in the meeting on 7 March. However, during the meeting we heard that the MT members had been summoned not to say anything about the issue, on penalty of labour law consequences.

The Rector and the HR Director met with more than 80 I&IC employees from 12:00 to 13:00 on Thursday 21 March to talk about the sudden and mysterious departure of the recently appointed Director. Mysterious because for weeks the staff members heard nothing about the reasons for his departure, not even that no information could be shared. The staff members were informed by the MT members that they were not allowed to say anything. They kept hearing this for more than three months after the Director left.

‘What was it that had to be kept quiet at such a high price?’

On 21 March we heard that there were no other options and that it had worked. I also heard that explaining what the problem was would have caused an immense amount of damage. But it was not clear who would have suffered this damage. What we did hear was that confidentiality is one of the core values of TU Delft and its HR policy.

Whether management by fear is also a core value was not discussed. At the meeting on 21 March, I sensed concerns and even despair among my colleagues about the policy being enacted. A couple of them were in tears. They were not ready to start thinking about what to do next. Disbelief prevailed over the modus operandi of the TU Delft management, which accepted to meet only after the insistence of 80 colleagues.

There are plenty of situations in which keeping something quiet or rephrasing it would be desirable for the greater good. At a minor level, to children you could say “the sweets are finished, but there’s still fruit left”. At a major level, you could use motorway signs to cause a traffic jam to catch a fleeing criminal. Actions in which objectives, interests and ‘winnings’ are weighed up can be morally respectable. But this necessitates accountability. This was not the case here. What was it that had to be kept quiet at such a high price to us, the I&IC staff?

Even after 21 March we still do not know. I do take this from that emotionally charged meeting: although our MT was silenced with a threat, we all stand ‘for an open and safe working environment’.

I am concerned about my colleagues and our working conditions.

Jan Schiereck works at the EU Research Funding Department at the Innovation & Impact Centre. He is also a member of Delta’s Editorial Board.

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