Letter to the editor

#NotMyExecutiveBoard: credibility

In this letter to the editor, Mathematics Professor Jan van Neerven takes up columnist Bob van Vliet’s hashtag #NotMyExecutiveBoard. He wonders whether the Executive Board and the Supervisory Board will live up to their own words.

Portret van Jan van Neerven

After more than a year of waiting, the long-anticipated report from the Education Inspectorate was finally released. The key finding: `The care for what is required by reasonableness and fairness in dealing with those involved within TU Delft is being severely neglected. This leads to the conclusion that there is a case of mismanagement’. According to the report, TU Delft is found not to adhere to several principles of the Code of Good Governance. Furthermore, the Inspectorate noted ‘a number of incidents of perceived intimidation and/or threats by (a) (former) executive(s) and a former member of the Supervisory Board’.

In academia, the adage ‘The referee is always right’ prevails. Even if you disagree with the referee, you still take the necessary distance and look critically at your manuscript again. This process is called self-reflection. How differently things were handled at the top of our institution. The initial response of the Executive Board and the Supervisory Board, mainly focused on limiting reputation damage and self-preservation, showed a significant lack of empathy and was met with disbelief in both the university press and national press. Within our own community, the response led to a wave of disapproval. After angry reactions from all democratic institutions within our institution and a petition of disapproval signed by over 1100 employees and students, the Executive Board and the Supervisory Board backed down: the threat of legal action was withdrawn.

This entire spectacle must have been a slap in the face to all employees and students who have had to deal with or are dealing with intimidation, abuse of power, and/or other forms of inappropriate behaviour, which sometimes go unpunished for years. In the response to the draft report, this group is dismissively described as follows: ‘Are the reporters actually victims, or were they actually perpetrators of a socially unsafe situation for others, making those others victims of that social unsafety’.

‘The Executive Board and the Supervisory Board face a significant credibility problem’

A disgraceful qualification of people who, as the Inspectorate’s report indicates, often suffer from psychological and physical health issues as a result of social unsafety, including burn-out, depression, illness, vomiting at work, panic attacks, and palpitations. Unfortunately, I am familiar with several distressing cases, and I can confirm that no word here is exaggerated. Those who have reported are now being called upon to come forward. Do the Executive Board and the Supervisory Board actually realize how afraid people can be? Intimidation usually occurs in the privacy of one-on-one situations, often within power relations, and there is usually no evidence apart from word against word. Those who do have the courage to report risk being accused of damaging reputations. At best, the situation is simply ignored. This is also the case in the situations I am familiar with.

An action plan for social safety is now being written on the Inspectorate’s orders, a plan that could have been written years ago. From now on, ‘we look forward’. A convenient rhetorical turn to avoid accountability, thereby effectively sweeping everything under the rug. As far as I am concerned, we should first look towards the Executive Board and the Supervisory Board. A separate chapter is dedicated to them in the Inspectorate’s report. They now face a significant credibility problem.

However, they have already suggested a solution themselves. In the redacted response to the draft version of the mentioned chapter we read (see previous reporting in Delta): `The consequence of publishing such a chapter can only be that the involved executives and supervisors publicly oppose this or that they resign (voluntarily or not), as they cannot defend themselves’.

Well, the chapter has been published, and no legal action will be undertaken. I am curious what consequences the Executive Board and the Supervisory Board will connect to their own words.

Jan van Neerven is a Professor of Mathematics at the Delft Institute of Applied Mathematics at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science, where he is Head of the Analysis Section. He has worked at TU Delft since 1996, first as a KNAW Research Fellow, and since 2006 as an Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Professor. Among other things, he has received a Vidi and a Vici grant.

This translation was done partly using GPT4.

Columnist Jan Van Neerven

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