Warning about misconduct by an academic is not that simple

16 Nov 2023

Universities are not obliged to warn each other about misconduct when a member of staff starts a new job at another institution. Outgoing education minister Robbert Dijkgraaf points out that warnings like these can violate a person’s right to privacy.

Last month, Algemeen Dagblad reported the case of a professor who was fired from Utrecht University for sexual misconduct. According to the newspaper, the man had committed previous transgressions at VU Amsterdam, Maastricht University and the University of Pennsylvania.

In the article, a spokesperson for Utrecht University said universities should be able to inform each other about such issues. But in response to parliamentary questions from his own party, D66, Dijkgraaf warns that sharing data of this kind can all too easily violate privacy laws.

“I deeply regret that events at higher education institutions have caused students and staff to feel unsafe”, the minister says. He also confirms that institutions are “not obliged to exchange warning signs with each other”.

 Exceptional cases

Dijkgraaf goes on to explain that such an obligation would be difficult to realise. He insists that sensitive information can only be shared between institutions in exceptional cases. An individual’s right to privacy always has to be taken into consideration.

He gives an example from the world of sport, where a social safety centre collected and shared data on “alleged and accused perpetrators”. But a court ruled that there was insufficient basis for processing criminal data in these circumstances. In short, the privacy of the people whose data was stored and shared outweighed any perceived benefit.

D66 would like to see a single, national hotline to report misconduct of this kind in higher education. The minister has declined to comment on this plan for the time being. He is awaiting the findings of research into the complaint and reporting procedures in higher education, and plans to use this as a basis for discussions with the institutions.

Translation: Taalcentrum-VU

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