TU Delft stresses need for permanent improvement in social safety

Investigation by Inspectorate Education unsound and disappointing

In response to the Inspectorate’s report into social safety among employees at the university, TU Delft stresses that social safety deserves priority, ongoing attention and improvement. TU Delft takes the inspectorate’s recommendations on board in its improvement process.

Without wanting to downplay the signals in the report, TU Delft notes that the underlying investigation by the Inspectorate of Education is unsound. The report that has just been adopted contains inaccurate, incomplete and poorly substantiated accusations against the university, (groups of) employees and (groups of) managers. TU Delft finds the damage the Directorate’s report is causing to the university and its staff to be unacceptable and unnecessary. Consequently, the report contributes insufficiently to the conversation about social safety, which TU Delft finds disappointing, precisely because social safety was and is such an important concern for TU Delft, for education and for society as a whole.

"We are faced with the important task of further strengthening social safety within TU Delft and ensuring that everyone, including those who have recently reported to the Inspectorate of Education, feel safe at TU Delft. There is no debate or ambiguity about this task and mission of TU Delft, nor about whether there is room for strengthening social safety. We share this observation with the Education Inspectorate", the Executive Board and the Supervisory Board state in a joint response.

"Sadly, the report itself does not make any positive contribution to improvement. This is disappointing and, in our view, unnecessary. The report only serves to damage individual staff and TU Delft as an organisation, without providing a process for hearing both sides to investigate allegations. The report is a finger-pointing exercise, whereas the intention is for us all to learn and improve", according to the Executive Board and the Supervisory Board.

Strengthening social safety is an absolute priority

In itself, the Inspectorate of Education’s recommendations fit well with the mission and responsibility that TU Delft has long felt and is already working hard to fulfil. Continuous improvement is an absolute priority. For example, the university is implementing a diversity and inclusion approach across the organisation, reporting and complaints procedures have been improved and there are now 12 confidential advisors and ombuds officers. Since 2017, TU Delft has been using an action plan that is regularly updated every three years or so. The results of a comprehensive employee survey on social security, among other things, are an important benchmark for improvement.

At TU Delft, we do not tolerate undesirable behaviour or unsafe situations. Everyone who works or studies at TU Delft must feel welcome and safe. TU Delft takes social safety extremely seriously. This also applies, of course, to reports made to the Inspectorate. After all, even one report is one too many. For those who have had a negative experience, this can be extremely distressing, sometimes even unbearable, and it can have serious consequences. The number of reports that the Inspectorate claims to have received is in line with the number of approximately 200 reports that TU Delft receives on average each year. These reports are made, among others, to the internal team of confidential advisors and the staff ombuds officer. These positions were created for this purpose several years ago and have been gradually expanded and strengthened.

TU Delft conducts regular surveys and reports annually on social safety. For reasons of privacy, TU Delft cannot and will not make these matters public. Given that the Inspectorate of Education makes an - otherwise unsubstantiated and unexplained - claim of intimidation and/or threat against (former) members of the Executive Board and a former member of the Advisory Board, TU Delft reports here that in 2021 a complaint was filed by an official against the President of the Executive Board, which was dealt with by an external complaints committee and declared unfounded on all parts. Reports and complaints are dealt with according to the established procedures and, if necessary, submitted to an external complaints committee. The same procedure is being followed for a number of cases that are currently being dealt with at different levels of the organisation.

Investigation is flawed

The fact that the TU Delft agrees with the Inspectorate of Education on the necessary focus on social safety does not mean that the report, and the investigation on which it is based, can stand up to the test of criticism. In particular, TU Delft criticises the incorrect, incomplete or even non-existent justification of the most damaging and far-reaching qualifications used by the Inspectorate, such as intimidation, threats, mismanagement and serious neglect of staff welfare.

TU Delft believes that the Inspectorate could not have arrived at these conclusions because, even by its own admission, it did not actually investigate any of the alleged situations of unsafe conditions, nor did it apply any process for hearing both sides. Nor did the inspectorate conduct culture or employee surveys. Experts asked by TU Delft to evaluate the method used to investigate this, confirmed that the investigation was careless and unsound.

At several points in the report, the Inspectorate makes accusations against individual members of staff, including in general terms (e.g. "lack of leadership in several parts of the organisation"). Again, these accusations are not based on sound research, let alone substantiated. The report is therefore unnecessarily damaging to (groups of) employees and (groups of) managers at TU Delft.

Therefore, TU Delft intends to submit the report to the court in order to have the legitimacy of the investigation (and thus the conclusions) assessed. TU Delft says that this is also important for the entire academic and higher education sector, as it can help to guide the desired policies and their assessment.

Financial management

The Inspectorate of Education also investigated in response to allegations concerning financial management at TU Delft. The Inspectorate of Education found that there were no grounds for concluding that there had been financial mismanagement. According to the Inspectorate, there are no indications of unjustified enrichment. Furthermore, on the basis of the documents and statements submitted to it, the Inspectorate concludes that the interests of TU Delft were sufficiently taken into account in the transactions and records.

Background information on the investigation

TU Delft received the adopted report from the Inspectorate of Education based on the investigation launched by the Inspectorate the day before Christmas 2022, following some reports in the areas of social safety and financial management.

As part of the investigation into social safety, the Inspectorate issued a call to TU Delft’s 12,000 (guest) employees in December 2022. The Inspectorate received 148 responses about perceived social unsafety in the workplace at TU Delft and spoke to 24 of the respondents. In addition, the Inspectorate conducted interviews with 62 employees in various positions, for information gathering purposes but not for feedback.

The full report and TU Delft’s opinion can be found here (Dutch only):