As yet few clear measures

Social safety change management plan almost ready for Inspectorate of Education

The social safety plan of action that TU Delft needs to submit to the Inspectorate of Education in mid-May is almost ready. At least, the version that the Executive Board wants to submit. It concerns a ‘living document’ that has been renamed a ‘change management plan’. In the document, the Executive Board expresses repentance, recognises that looking back is needed, and names a few potential measures for the short and longer term.

(Photo: Thijs van Reeuwijk)

This is outlined in the Plan of change social safety, draft version 2 of 7 May. While it is a draft, reading it shows that little else will change before mid-May. This is virtually impossible anyway as it was only sent to the representation bodies, the social safety sounding board group, and the Executive Board at around midday on 7 May.

These bodies had given their feedback to the first draft version dated 26 April in detailed feedback forms and several meetings. However, the second version categorically states that the intention is not to repeat previous feedback.

‘The call from the TU Delft Community is loud and clear’

While not mentioned in the draft, sources say that the first draft was also shared with deans and directors, that they in turn shared it with their management teams, and several managers then shared it with their staff. The number of people who have responded is not clear. A spokesperson confirms that ‘the feedback was gathered actively and throughout the organisation’. Much of the input was included or ‘will be used at some point. The plan is the starting point for change and not the finish line. So I do not have concrete numbers.’


The plan has indeed undergone several changes. These are sometimes the amending of words or sentences, sometimes the deleting or adding of paragraphs. In one example, the first draft had a very clear sentence about sharing a different opinion: ‘They (staff members and students, Eds.) can put forward a dissenting opinion or new facts without being insulted, humiliated, intimidated or silenced.’

Now it says: ‘Social safety also means that we dare to speak to each other and that we can fearlessly say what we think. This applies in particular to vulnerable people in a dependent position.’

The first version also expressed the idea of appointing a ‘pro vice-rector’ or programme director for social safety, while in the second draft this has become a ‘programme manager’. More on this below.

Change management plan

Both drafts start with an introduction on how the change management plan came about and a Plan for change chapter in which the Executive Board addresses the community. Given that the second draft is close to being finalised, we will mostly cite from that version.

In the ‘A plan for change’ chapter, the Executive Board explains why it has let go of the term ‘plan of action’. ‘The word action plan gives the impression of a one-off investment. Associations are made with a checklist of measures being ticked off and then on to the order of the day. However, the call from the TU Delft Community (students and employees of TU Delft) is loud and clear. We want change!’

‘If we move too fast, there will not be enough room to talk about and learn from the past’

The Executive Board also adds that that change ‘is not possible without acknowledging the past’, by which it means that a start has been made but is still ongoing. It describes that ‘there is a fear (among staff members and students, Eds.) that if we move too fast, there will not be enough room to talk about and learn from the past. This could also lead to us not focusing on the right things.’

At the same time, the Executive Board says that it feels the need for haste. ‘… change is urgent and it is partly clear what needs to change.’ In terms of these aspects, it also suggests clear potential actions.

‘Stumbling forward’

Under the heading ‘Learning’, the Executive Board again offers its apologies. It states the following. ‘In recent years, we have not acted sufficiently, or perhaps not properly, on signals of social insecurity within the organisation. People have suffered as a result. As the Executive Board, this touches us deeply and we sincerely regret this. Hence our apologies once again to the TU Delft community and in particular to those who have been victims of socially unsafe situations; and to those who still experience social unsafety.’

‘Hierarchy, status and informal positions of power play less of a role’

‘That we are not there yet is also evident from the process of the last few months, which can best be described as stumbling forward. We feel and understand that some events in recent months have dented the confidence that we can jointly achieve a socially safer TU Delft. We will do all we can to regain that trust and make TU Delft socially safer.’

Nothing about us without us

Further on in the draft document there is a list of the points where the Executive Board believes change is needed.

  • The organisational structure: TU Delft is a very large hierarchical organisation in which status and power ‘play a role’ while leadership is not seen as a ‘profession’ everywhere.
  • The culture: with its ‘focus on content and reason’. Behaviour is less of a topic of conversation, while processes to bring about social safety are sometimes carried out without due diligence and there is a lack of transparency.
  • The system: is insufficiently focused on preventing social unsafety, and is incoherent and uncoordinated. Many managers, including the Executive Board, are not sufficiently equipped to ‘promote social safety’.

The draft plan also mentions five ‘change principles’: ‘bottom-up’ (‘Changes must be borne by the community’); ‘participatory’ (‘everyone has the opportunity to participate’); ‘nothing about us without us’ (which particularly applies to ‘vulnerable (minority) groups’; ‘learning is [sic] central’ (‘discover better what works’); and, ‘leveraging knowledge’ (‘harness this power of the community’).

New Code of Conduct

Looking back at the last few months, the Executive Board writes that it is still unclear what solutions ‘will really contribute to making TU Delft socially safe’. This means that the implementation phase of the measures that are as yet clear, the phase in which work is done on wider measures, and the phase of a change in culture will run in parallel. If it were up to the Executive Board, the first phase will run up to February 2025, the second to 2026, and the third to an undefined end date. None of these ‘end dates’ are firm deadlines.

While changing culture takes a long time to bring about, the Executive Board wants to start working on this immediately. During the course of 2024, ‘working conferences’ will be held to stimulate dialogue on topics such as what kind of behaviour is desired.

TU Delft’s organisational structure needs to change through steps such as valuing collaboration and desirable behaviour, and stepping away from a focus on ‘substantive or organisational excellence’. Further, ‘hierarchy, status and informal positions of power play less of a role’, for example in the evaluation of PhD candidates. The Executive Board also wants to invest ‘in leadership’ through ‘training and support’, and a ‘social safety monitor’ will be introduced.

The need for dialogue is a repeated issue

The Executive Board also states that a new Code of Conduct is needed. Apart from new, as yet to be determined rules of conduct, it must also include ‘An elaboration of possible sanctions’.

Regaining trust

The need for dialogue on possible solutions, desirable conduct and regaining trust are repeated issues in the second draft of the change management plan. That ‘continuous dialogue’ must become just as normal ‘as talking about our substantive performance’ and will be held in various settings so that everyone feels safe and has the space ‘to speak out’.

On top of this, measures need to be introduced for particular groups of people who experience unsafe situations more frequently: women, international students and staff members, and PhD candidates. To this end, the Executive Board suggests ‘strengthening the position of DEWIS, Delft Women in Science’.

To improve the position of internationals, the Executive Board pledges to make ‘all expressions and policy documents available in English’ and to start ‘training courses in (sic) intercultural sensitivity’. In consultation with the international community, more efforts will be put on ‘more community building’.

No measures to be immediately rolled out are as yet given for PhD candidates, but it does list some suggestions such as ‘Improve onboarding so that every PhD student receives the information needed’ and including social safety in the PhD agreement.

Organising social safety

The Executive Board wants to use a PDCA cycle  (‘Plan, Do, Check, Act’) in managing social safety as this incorporates ‘continuous improvement’. The Executive Board will play ‘a central role’ in the change management plan’s working out and implementation phase and will discuss this in its weekly meeting. A brief report on progress will be issued every month, and a ‘public progress report’ will be issued quarterly. There will be a comprehensive ‘report on culture and social safety’ every year.

The Supervisory Board and the Executive Board are supported by external experts to reflect on their own actions

A ‘programme manager’ will be appointed who will report to the Executive Board. In the first draft of the plan, this position was called a ‘pro vice-rector’ and ‘programme director’. The programme manager will fall within an existing department and will report every week to the Executive Board and will manage a programme team made up of policy officers and project managers at TU Delft. They will be supported by internal and external experts.

There will also be a steering group that will be ‘responsible for guiding the process of further adaptation, elaboration and implementation of the Plan for Change’. The people making up the group will be ‘a representation of the various sections of TU Delft with special attention to minority groups, people in a dependent position and officials who are part of the social safety network’. The chairperson will be the member of the Executive Board whose portfolio includes social safety.

Just as the Executive Board, the Supervisory Board will also put social safety permanently on its agenda and is intending to be more visible for staff members and students. The Supervisory Board will report every year as part of its accountability on ‘the manner and content of its supervision of social safety’. As stated in the draft plan, both the Supervisory Board and the Executive Board are supported by external experts in reflecting on their own actions.

Findings of Inspectorate

The Inspectorate of Education investigated transgressive behaviour at TU Delft from December 2022 to November 2023. In the resulting report, the investigators speak of intimidation, racism, sexism, bullying, exclusion, gossiping, social insecurity due to lack of leadership and a culture of fear, among other things. For instance, employees are said to be afraid to voice their opinions and hold each other accountable for behaviour.

The effects among TU Delft employees who have reported to the inspection are often long-lasting and hampering. The inspectorate speaks of psychological and physical health complaints, absence from work and a general feeling of insecurity. Stress, burnout, depression and PTSD, crying and tense home situations also occur, as do illness, vomiting at work, panic attacks and heart palpitations.

The inspectorate reports that TU Delft’s university administration has a lot of information regarding what is happening in terms of social safety, but that they ‘omit to add everything up so as to create a complete picture’. ‘The management’ also ‘does not adequately manage in terms of appropriate measures’. The Inspectorate believes that this is mismanagement.

Read the news and background articles on the Inspectorate’s report in our dossier.

  • Delta is still looking for current and former TU Delft staff members who are willing to share their experiences. This can be done anonymously if preferred. Email
Editor in chief Saskia Bonger

Do you have a question or comment about this article?

Comments are closed.