It has become increasingly clear over the past year that the safeguards put in within the UvA for the purposes of flagging up and subsequently addressing lack of social safety need to be tightened up.
Social safety is a broad concept, ranging from a strong culture in which people can hold others accountable, to transparent, accessible complaints procedures and the establishment of clear boundaries for conduct. Overstepping these boundaries is never acceptable. Students and staff must have a means at their disposal to raise concerns, dilemmas and complaints at the University. They must feel safe in doing so, and have confidence that their report or complaint will be taken seriously.
The (recent) past shows that improvements are required. The Executive Board is fully focused on responding effectively to reports and complaints. Consequently, we are making great strides with various actions already under way. These are outlined below.
Social safety actions
Over the previous eighteen months, we have reviewed and improved our system and procedures surrounding complaints and reports of inappropriate behaviour in various ways. In that respect we also drew on the recommendations of the External Commission on Social Safety headed up by Marry de Gaay Fortman, which we approached to have the social safety system (and how this was working) subjected to scrutiny.
- A new code of conduct has been drawn up;
- The confidential adviser system has been critically examined and recommendations have already been partially incorporated;
- We have appointed an acting ombudsperson (to lay the groundwork for its definitive role);
- An external hotline has been set up temporarily;
- We have improved the availability of information on social safety, which includes the guide to social safety for staff and students.
The following actions are expected to be completed in the very near future:
- The suitability of the complaints procedure for social safety complaints will be improved. Among other modifications, this will include a specific complaints procedure for social safety, widening the scope for investigation and including extended deadlines, greater accessibility for international students and options for former students and staff to submit complaints.
- A proposal to make the ombudsperson’s role a permanent fixture was recently presented to the representative advisory body. This paid particular attention to accessibility, expansion of the procedure, the scope of the regulations and independence of the position relative to the Executive Board.
- The regulations vis-à-vis the confidential persons are currently being revised and amended and will be presented to the representative advisory body.
A Social Safety Taskforce was set up for the period spanning July 2019 to the end of 2020 and was tasked with advising and working on increasing the social safety of staff and students. The taskforce is inspiring and spurring on improvements in terms of social safety and is set to issue recommendations for improving social safety at the UvA at the start of 2021, encompassing four areas:
- Creating a safe university (strengthening the organisation and prevention)
- Rapid help where necessary (enabling secure reporting and rapid handling of questions/complaints/incidents)
- Identifying safety risks (monitoring and reporting issues)
- A safe campus for everyone (physical and online environment)
In addition to effective procedures, the recognition, discussion and prevention of inappropriate behaviour is essential. The same applies to aftercare for those who have reported or experienced such behaviour. For this reason, discussions and training courses will contribute to the formation of a culture in which we hold each other accountable for behaviour, and where leaders are well-equipped to respond effectively. An awareness campaign aimed at all staff and students is to be launched in the spring.