UGent student who reported inappropriate behaviour left years without response

UGent student who reported inappropriate behaviour left years without response
Credit: Belga

A student at UGent who reported having received inappropriate messages from a PhD student supervising her exams in January 2020 has been left waiting years for a response from the university.

Despite having emailed the university about the incident, including the secretary of the disciplinary committee, and tweeting messages to both the university and its dean Rik Van de Walle, the student has still not been updated on the situation and has received no information regarding a disciplinary procedure.

"Today is the second anniversary of the transgressive messages that an assistant sent to me after he found me online because I had forgotten my student ID," the girl wrote on Twitter.

"Not an exam goes by that I'm not afraid of being approached again. It also doesn't help that UGent won't let me know what they are doing about the incident, even though I was assured that they would," she stated.

Stealing exam answers 'for a price'

Back in 2020, the PhD student supervising one of her exams sent her a photo of herself taking the test, and suggested he could steal the answers for her. The woman shared screenshots of the messages on a Facebook group for UGent students.

"How would you pay for that kind of information?" he asked in one message. "Let me tell you, my price isn't cheap." At this point, the student said this was a bridge too far and broke off the conversation.

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This resulted in some media attention and the university saying "it takes this very seriously," but since then, the girl received little to no information.

The tweet including a picture of the conversation with the PhD student reads: "Day three of tweeting at Rik Van de Walle, because I wonder why UGent is stringing me along for three academic years because of a PhD student who apparently wanted to give me exam answers in exchange for 'something'."

The student has been emailing the secretary of the disciplinary committee since 7 January 2021. Responses have sometimes indicated she'll receive an answer "as soon as possible," or that the chair of the committee will be consulted, or that no answer can be given. Other times, the emails are ignored entirely.

"Is this a correct way to treat victims of transgressive behaviour? If it happens to me, it will happen to others," she said. In November last year, she was told a sanction had been pronounced, but this was later retracted, with Van de Walle saying the man had not been sanctioned yet.

The university confirmed to The Brussels Times on Thursday evening that Van de Walle has urged the Disciplinary Committee to complete its work "very soon". "I can't put a concrete deadline on it, but it won't take weeks," a spokesperson said.

Delayed response by universities

The story comes in the wake of testimonies from multiple women accusing a Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) archaeology professor of sexual harassment. They also criticised the lack of response from the university to the allegations.

Multiple complaints were made against the professor, against whom allegations of transgressive behaviour, intimidation and abuse of power were directed for around ten years. Victims said the university did nothing until they contacted the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men (IGIVM), which is when "things picked up speed."

Eventually, the professor was fired following an internal investigation by the VUB.

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