How to proceed now the ombudsperson is stepping down? ‘The role needs to be more robust and independent’

27 Mar 2024

The departure of ombudsperson Nancy Viellevoye hits Radboud University hard. Members of the council and union think it is now up to the Executive Board to learn from this. ‘We have seen that the university frequently fears reputational damage.'

The departure of ombudsperson Nancy Viellevoye did not come as a surprise to Max Visser, vice-chair of Radboud University’s Works Council (WC). It was already known to the representative advisory body that Viellevoye was running into problems. ‘It is not a good look for the university if the person who’s put their heart and soul into their job leaves after two and a half years.’

In an interview with Vox yesterday, Viellevoye talked about resigning as ombudsperson because she felt she was constantly being sidelined. The main reason for this is Radboud University consults external expertise too often, instead of using the expertise of its ombudsperson in cases of wrongdoings. Therefore she did not feel she could do enough for people who reported.

‘The position of the ombudsperson needs to be more robust and independent’

The Works Council does not have a good insight into the number of external investigations carried out at the university, Visser says. ‘Sometimes, the privacy of those involved also requires those investigations to occur out of sight. But all the external expertise costs a lot of money. The university should build the capacity to resolve these kinds of conflicts itself.’

The next ombudsperson should, according to WC members, have more influence. ‘The position of the ombudsperson needs to be more robust and independent. You need to be able to stand your ground against the hierarchy of the university, for example when there are a lot of conflicts with a particular supervisor.’

Labour disputes

Visser also denounced Viellevoye’s small position, which proved insufficient to handle the many reports that landed on her desk. According to the WC, an extra work day is a necessity – as well as an administrative support team.

The WC is also concerned about the cooperation between the ombudsperson, the confidential counsellors, and HR departments. Rather than being resolved with the supervisor or HR, too many conflicts and reports went to the ombudsperson, because many HR departments are overburdened, or because employees feel that HR does not operate independently. The Executive Board should therefore strengthen the position of HR, Visser argues.

Culture change

The unions are also not amused with Viellevoye’s departure. According to Arnoud Lagendijk, spokesperson on behalf of the unions in the Local Consultation (LO) and board member of the General Education Union (AOb), an important task now awaits the board. ‘This is the time to put things in order. Upon the arrival of a new ombudsperson, the position in the organisation needs to be clear. Who handles which reports? Which complaints are referred to HR and which are not? In which cases will external expertise be consulted? How do we properly follow up on the outcomes, if it also has serious consequences for those involved?’

‘In the past, we have frequently seen the university fear reputational damage’

Lagendijk believes it is high time for a culture change within Radboud University. ‘The system of social safety only works if the right steps are taken to address wrongdoings. In the past, we have frequently seen the university fear reputational damage. But especially in those cases, the ombudsperson needs to be involved. This can have a great effect internally, which can allow for better communication about these cases externally. Management and supervisors must learn to handle conflicts better. That way, the whole system works better.’

The Local Council has mentioned the ombudsperson’s lack of basic facilities before. ‘In response to the collective labour agreement, requiring the appointment of an ombudsperson, various guidelines had been developed. These include a good workspace and technical support. These were not in order. I hope this will be addressed soon.’

Translated by Stella Kuipers


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