President Letschert: “PhD candidates still don’t dare to speak out; that is unacceptable”

President Letschert: “PhD candidates still don’t dare to speak out; that is unacceptable”

Ask Me Anything about social safety

27-06-2022 · Background

MAASTRICHT. Creating an atmosphere in which people dare to speak out about their problems, preferably informally with their immediate manager or colleagues. That is Maastricht University’s main objective in the area of social safety, as appeared during the Ask Me Anything session on that subject last Wednesday.

In Ask Me Anything sessions, employees can pose online questions to administrators on a particular matter. This time, president Rianne Letschert, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences dean Annemie Schols, and director of the Faculty of Science and Engineering Bakir Bulic joined in.

One of the reasons to speak about social safety is the recently launched Concern & Complaints Point. The co-ordinator of the complaints point offers a listening ear and helps people find the right confidential advisor or complaints procedure. Preferably, however, it doesn’t come to a formal complaint, the panel members say.

“It is up to us to choose leaders who ensure that problems are discussible,” says Bulic. “I hope that someone who has a problem, can approach his or her immediate circle.” He feels that the university has become more open the last few years. “This is a hot topic. That is of course sad, but it does stimulate us to have discussions about it.”

Preventative effect

Action is also being taken. Letschert mentions the sensitivity training sessions that are included in the leadership courses for managers. “Sometimes, we can even take action sooner. If you repeatedly receive formal or informal complaints about a supervisor, then at some point you have to say: this person should not supervise PhD candidates anymore. If you show a couple of times within a faculty that you are prepared to do that, it will have a preventative effect.”

The university also wants to organise inter-visions – this is where a group discusses a certain problem or subject and also takes a look at the group dynamic. “At the beginning of July, the deans and the members of the Executive Board will have such a session,” says Letschert. “We are nine different personalities who, as it happens, have the same objective, but have our own visions of how we achieve that. We will look at how we relate to each other.”

PhD candidates

Schols would love to see peer support on all levels. “As a team, but maybe also as a group. Of course, there is a relationship of dependence between some people in the team. Maybe you should, for example, take the group of PhD candidates separately. I want to encourage the younger ones to discuss their problems.” Letschert nods. “PhD candidates are a very vulnerable group. Most of the complaints we receive, are from them. Often, they want it to remain confidential. I understand that, but this makes it very difficult to take action. I have been in the academic world for 25 years and the situation is still the same, a solution has not been found – that is unacceptable. We have to break through the silence. We have to be able to guarantee people that their careers will not suffer if they speak out.”

What about the advice to just ‘bide your time’, because PhD candidates and post-docs have temporary contracts? “Unacceptable,” says Schols immediately. The other two panel members agree. “We have a responsibility towards them, but also towards those who come after them,” says Bulic. “Not doing anything, is to nobody’s benefit.”

Author: Cleo Freriks

Photo: Shutterstock

Tags: ask me anything,social safetry,safe workplace,HR,diversity,inclusivity,letschert,schols,bulic,askmeanything

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