Last week the NRC Handelsblad published an extensive investigation into the recent #Metoo scandal concerning UvA labour law Professor B. who was forced to resign last year. Angry UvA students and employees have demanded the appointment of an ombudsman.
The professor, referred to as ‘B.’ or ‘R.B.’, is described by the newspaper as ‘intelligent, charismatic and eloquent’ as well as someone who regularly makes ‘sexually motivated comments’ including “jokes” to female colleagues like, ‘I just jerked off about you’. The article goes on to describe how numerous women have been confronted with remarks on their appearance such as being told they should ‘wear high heels’, grow their hair long and that ‘their nails must be long and varnished’. Several colleagues have reported receiving pornographic photos and videos.
The NRC wanted to disclose the full name of the professor, but judge Dudok van Heel ruled against its plea stating that the article was in itself sufficiently based on facts, but that B is ‘a public figure’. Partly due to the exacerbating effect of social media, publication of his name would cause him to be irreparably damaged, she judged. The statement has caused an uproar and the newspaper has said it will appeal.
Folia published an article on R.B.’s abuse of power in January, disclosing its findings that over a period of ten to fifteen years, R.B. had been involved in several ‘unequal relationships’ with female students and staff. ‘The afterwards was toxic and unsafe,’ said professor Evert Verhulp from the labor law department. ‘The faculty was right to take action.’ Those involved say the incidents often remained secret. ‘It would start with some small talk, and before you know it you are in bed with him. Guilt is a tricky emotion and can lead people to feel uncomfortable reporting what happened.’
The UvA has communicated through dean André Nollkaemper that the situation is ‘painful’. Nollkaemper: ‘Signals have been missed. This has been going on for too long. It’s the faculty’s responsibility to keep its ears and eyes open and make people feel safe to report anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or insecure. Victims need to know that action will be taken. This was not the case.’
Last Wednesday a small group of students and staff demonstrated at the Bushuis building in response to the article. They found the UvA’s reaction to be lacking and demanded an independent ombudsman be appointed by the student and employee Participation Council. Guy Geltner, initiator and Professor of Medieval History argues that that an ombudsman should replace the current system of counsellors. If that doesn’t happen, he said, ‘then protests aren’t enough’.