Between December 2012 and December 2019 UvA students of the MA Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage repeatedly addressed their experience of being intimidated and sexually harassed by one of their teachers. Despite several attempts, this initially did not lead to any reaction by the university system. Only in 2016 did the program director talk informally with the teacher, and as a result some of his behaviour stopped, but not all. When in 2019 the students escalated their complaints to the dean, the teacher received an official reprimande, but the dean also stated he could only act if the students were willing to personally file a complaint, something they were reluctant to do, as they did not trust that they would be sufficiently protected in a complaint procedure. The dean then commissioned an investigation into the program which, however, was not aimed at “adding more incidents to the (student’s) letter” and therefore did not include talking to these students. Finally, after yet another escalation to a higher managerial level, the UvA Board commissioned the ombudsperson to investigate, who did not talk to any of the complaining students either, yet concluded nevertheless that there were “no structural and systematic problems around social safety” and that no further investigation was needed. The teacher still teaches in the program. Meanwhile the broader UvA community only knows about all of this because the NRC, one of the major newspapers of the Netherlands, has published an excellently researched article about it.

All of this happens a year after UvA staff and students, and the Dutch public, were deeply shocked by revelations of the NRC about systematic sexual intimidation and abuse of female staff and students by a professor in the law faculty which was going on for many years. Also in this case, none of the responsible managers took seriously the various reports and stories by the women who were harassed. The UvA only reacted after a law professor of another university went to the de dean and presented a full portfolio of abusive incidents committed by the said professor. An external investigation was then commissioned and the professor left the UvA. Yet, the UvA protected his name and never informed the academic community about the precise scope of the abuse.

In reaction to this case and the public uproar, the UvA board promised to address the problem. It introduced a “annual appraisal” training for supervisors which, however, had nothing to do with preventing abuse of power. The board also hired an ombudsperson, yet failed to assure that person’s independence from the hierarchical structure, including from the influence of the board itself.