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Opinion | ‘We don't need no investigation’

Guy Geltner,
24 juni 2020 - 17:20

In light of ongoing revelations about harassment and intimidation at the University of Amsterdam, the university board of directors announced today the most common of delaying tactics, states professor Guy Geltner (Medieval History): an investigative committee. 

It would be helpful, of course, to understand if and who bears personal responsibility among UvA managers for the most recent scandal, and how they justified systematically brushing aside and minimizing complaints by students and staff over the course several years. However, if those involved — from the university’s board, through the diversity officer and ombudsperson, to the Humanities dean — do not want to take responsibility for their lack of action, no committee should or would do their work for them.

‘Putting aside the waste of time and money, an investigation is bound to tell us what we already know’

More importantly, and putting aside the waste of time and money, an investigation is bound to tell us what we already know, namely: 1) that a hierarchical institution like a university must have checks on the abuse of power in place; and 2) that these are — to say the least — currently insufficient at the UvA. So why not just do something about it now, with the many tools at our disposal as a community?

 

As we brace ourselves for the next string of revelations, therefore, here are a few simple, impactful and necessary measures that can be implemented at all relevant levels, without having to be endlessly discussed or buried in committees. The list is hardly exhaustive, yet it aims to strike at the core of what’s engrained into our procedures, that is a lack of transparency that, among others, perpetuates a lack of diversity:

 

  1. Hiring committees at all levels must meet basic, field-specific diversity criteria and are to include an independent monitor to avoid the abuse of power within them;
  2. Paid safety, diversity and inclusivity officer/s and forums are to be instituted in each department/program, comprising students, academic staff and OBP;
  3. Research schools are to devise clear safety, diversity and inclusivity policies with direct impact on the constitution of their boards’ and PhD defense committees;
  4. Teaching program teams are to schedule specific sessions to evaluate Euro-centric epistemologies shaping current curricula and propose possibilities for addressing it, working closely with knowledgeable parties. These committees should be paid extra to do so by the CvB, rather than become a further burden on faculty budgets.

 

These measures do not and cannot stand alone, of course. What, for instance, makes monitors independent? To whom would they report concerns of foul play if not to an independent office, for instance a (trustworthy) diversity officer or (effective) ombudsperson? And how, to take another issue, will program boards maintain on ongoing conversation about their curricula if educational development on that front is not part of our ongoing (and paid) professionalization?

 

These issues need to be urgently hammered out, with both student and works councils playing a major role. But while structural change is crucial for cultural change, the latter can begin from the ground up through department/program and faculty initiatives. Neither, at any rate, needs an investigation committee to get off the ground now.