Column: Dap Hartmann


The court proceedings TU Delft is considering in response to the Inspectorate of Education report seem more an attempt to put their own house in order than to address the underlying causes of the reports. You do not restore TU Delft’s good name in court, but by being an excellent employer, Dap Hartmann believes.

(Foto: Sam Rentmeester)

Last Friday, everyone received an invitation from the Executive Board to come and listen, a mere two hours later, to an ‘interpretation’ of the Education Inspectorate’s report on social safety at TU Delft. Because the report would soon become public, it was urgent to make a statement immediately. That sounded like the shit had hit the fan.

In the packed hall, the President of the Board took the floor: ‘The Inspectorate points out that we must pay more attention to a socially-safe working environment […] we fully agree with this.’ However, he rejected the conclusions and qualifications of the report in strong terms.

When you’re being shaved, you’d better to sit still, but TU Delft is considering taking this to court. Advice was sought from research institute Verinorm, which criticised the report on 75 (!!) points. Their main conclusion is: ‘The investigation is […] merely a collection of a limited number of anonymous reports and anonymised interviews with employees.’

Wow! That sounds more like an attempt to clear your own house than to fix the underlying causes of the incidents reported.

Later that day, TU Delft made the report public. I imagine that the Education Inspectorate will not be too happy about this, because TU Delft steals the scoop of the publication of their research report. In addition, the TU Delft is considering filing a lawsuit against the Inspectorate. Is defending the good name of TU Delft more important than improving our working environment?

Please don’t refer to all the committees, officers, protocols, measuring instruments, recommendations and other window dressing, but for once do something structural. You compassionately state ‘We thank the informants, because only through informants can we take action’, but why only now?

Many fear the consequences if they speak up

Every year such incidents are reported to confidential counselors and via the triennial Employee Monitor, from which the Education Inspectorate quotes: ‘23 percent of employees have experienced one or more cases of undesirable personal encounter […].’ Holy crap! That’s almost one in four employees! They too are anonymous because many fear the consequences if they speak up.

The Executive Board has known all this for a long time. But not enough has been done to improve the situation and now they got slapped on the wrist by the Education Inspectorate.

I too am disappointed by the Education Inspectorate’s report, but for a different reason than the Executive Board. No distinction is made between incidents and structural mismanagement. There are reports about ‘bullying’. Does that refer to hiding your colleague’s stapler, or ‘accidentally’ dismantling her laboratory setup? I know of a number of cases of the latter ‘bullying’ and if even I know that, how often does this really happen? Is the Executive Board familiar with these cases? If they’re not, then they are unaware of what is going on in the organisation, and that is worrisome. But if they are, why didn’t they fix it and make sure that it could not happen again?

In addition to a number of very serious incidental malefactions, I also know of structural transgressions that have existed for as long as I have worked at TU Delft, and which are confirmed by many colleagues. Why not start there? The good name of TU Delft cannot be restored in court but only by proving yourself to be an excellent employer.

Dap Hartmann is Associate Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Delft Centre for Entrepreneurship (DCE) at the Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management. In a previous life, he was an astronomer and worked at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Together with conductor and composer Reinbert de Leeuw, he wrote a book about modern (classical) music.

Columnist Dap Hartmann

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