The incident at the Maastricht Faculty of Law occurred in March. Seventy to eighty first-year students at European Law School received a link to a WhatsApp group, initially set up as a “private initiative” by a number of fellow students, says Jan Smits. By sharing the links, the group chat became “semi-public”. Students used the app to share tips about books and other sources of information, related to the study programme. A variety of other subjects were discussed too.
Irritation arose when the five repeatedly posted xenophobic remarks. Their fellow students told off the culprits, but complaints eventually reached the programme director's desk.
Smits doesn't want to go into detail about the type of comments, but will say that “certain groups of people were branded on the basis of distinctive characteristics”. He felt a reaction from the board was necessary. “We couldn't let this pass, it was unacceptable and led to unrest. Our student population, but especially that of European Law School, is very international and from various cultures. Besides, we have a code of conduct at Maastricht University and certain values that we stand for: openness, respect and human dignity. These comments were completely contrary to these.”
Employees and students must have “respect, integrity, responsibility and self-reflection,” it states in a document on the rules of conduct at the UM. Furthermore there is a Student Statute that states explicitly that the institute upholds “a preventative policy” in order to “avoid and fight undesirable behaviour, especially sexual harassment, aggression, violence, and bullying, as well as discrimination in a work situation and the study environment.” Whether or which sanctions can be associated, is unclear, nor whether a warning preceding such a sanction is required.
Smits emphasises “a zero-tolerance policy” regarding these kinds of comments. He invited the five for a talk. He does not want to give details. A “proportional measure” was taken. “It is in proportion to the outrageous behaviour that they exhibited.” He denies rumours that they have been expelled from the programme. “There will come a time when they can continue. I believe that 18-year-olds deserve a second chance.” Rumours have it that the students have been suspended for two periods, which could have the consequence that they cannot pass this year.
The WhatsApp group was not disbanded, although Smits knows that the punished students left the group. The dean also wishes not to say if the individuals appealed against the imposed measure.