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Executive Board column: My concerns about the increased harassment of academics

Academics increasingly face threats, intimidation and abuse. The WetenschapVeilig platform has been launched to address this. Academics who are being threatened or intimidated can seek help from the platform 24 hours a day. It’s good that we now have this platform. But at the same time, it’s awful that we need it.

In this column Annetje Ottow, Hester Bijl and Martijn Ridderbos give a peek behind the scenes at the Executive Board of Leiden University. What does their work involve? What gets them enthusiastic? What challenges do they face? Building on a healthy, engaged and learning community begins with sharing what you are up to. This time it’s the turn of Hester Bijl.

When I had just become rector, the extreme-right platform Vizier op Links started putting stickers on the front doors of academics and others. The stickers said that the location was being watched. One of our academics, historian Nadia Bouras, found one of these stickers on her front door upon returning home with her children. I called her soon after it happened and saw how distressing it was. The phone call made me realise the impact of such intimidation on a person and how important it is to offer prompt help, for instance with reporting the incident to the police.

‘I hope that this platform will help us make it clear to society that we will not tolerate abuse and that we stand with our staff.’ ​​​​​​

Many academics now face threats, intimidation or abuse via social media or e-mail. This is terrible. WetenschapVeilig makes sure these academics get the help they need, 24/7. I also hope that this platform will help us make it clear to society that we will not tolerate abuse and that we stand with our staff. ​​​​​​​

Staff from our university can always seek the help of their manager and dean. They are supported in turn by the Safety Department, which is available at all times. The new platform should make it easier for all academics in the Netherlands to reach the helplines within their institutions. The WetenschapVeilig website also has useful advice for academics, managers and the institutions themselves.

I am concerned about the rising number of threats. Not only because of the staff who are on the receiving end but also because of academia itself. At the heart of academic freedom is the ability of academics to speak their minds. Threats and intimidation encourage self-censorship, which does not benefit the quality of academic endeavour. Nor does it benefit society in the end. Do we really want a society where academics do not publish important findings because of the aggressive response this elicits from some of its members?

Share your thoughts or experiences by sending an email to nieuws@leidenuniv.nl.

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