Several weeks after various Belgian universities faced allegations of students and staff being harassed, they have made concrete agreements to tighten policies against such behaviour.
In 2018, the Flemish universities and university colleges signed a charter through the Flemish Interuniversity Council (VLIR) that served as a guideline for further elaborating their policy on transgressive behaviour, however, following an evaluation in light of recent incidents, it was decided additional steps are needed.
"Cross-border behaviour of any kind should not be tolerated under any circumstances, including at universities. Students and staff must be able to work in a safe, respectful and inclusive environment," a statement from VLIR read.
Many women who shared testimonies of experiencing transgressive behaviour from staff members across several universities in Ghent, Leuven and Brussels expressed disappointment with the universities' approach and lack of response to the allegations, as well as the unclarity regarding how such cases were dealt with.
Earlier this week, 700 staff at the Leuven Catholic University (KU Leuven) signed an open letter to rector Luc Sels demanding that he take action following revelations about the abusive behaviour of one of the university’s professors, arguing that not enough is being done to help victims and taking action against perpetrators.
Prevention policy and reporting cases
Universities themselves also acknowledged that improvement is needed, and agreed to a number of concrete agreements to implement within their own institution, however, they can take additional measures if they want to, according to VLIR.
When it comes to the prevention of such incidents, the institutions agreed to assemble practical knowledge about risk factors within an academic working environment to translate this into a prevention policy.
VLIR stressed that it is crucial that universities make it clear to students and staff members where to turn with their allegations if boundaries are crossed, and that they should be given the choice between an internal or an external reporting point.
"They must be transparently informed about the prevailing procedures and victims must at all times have insight into the status of the case they have brought," VLIR stated.
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Higher education institutions agreed to better advertise the existing contact points within and outside the universities and to ensure that victims can make an informed choice of how to report cases and how these will be dealt with. Interuniversity agreements will also be made for a more uniform registration of reports.
Following analysis and possible testing by external experts, they will adjust regulations regarding their own reporting and disciplinary procedures where needed.
To avoid victims having to wait months for a response to their ongoing cases, processing times will become more transparent as well.