Here, I will make relevant documentation and press releases available concerning transgressive behaviors at the university, including sexual harassment, violence, moral harassment, discrimination, and abuse of power. I hope that this will give victims support and courage, and that it be known that we will not be silenced.
La Libre publishes about the student protest. Read it here.
UCLouvain students protest against the inaction of the university. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele speaks up for the victims (translated from French):
Speech at the demonstration against gender-based violence at UCLouvain and for UCLouvain to drop its appeal against the conviction for violence at work by the Court of Wavre
Jean-Pascal van Ypersele
LLN, 13 October 2022
In June 2021, more than 15 months ago, I denounced to the highest authorities of UCLouvain the inadequate way in which the university manages situations of moral and sexual harassment.
Just 8 months ago, on February 15, 2022, while several situations were deteriorating and anonymous testimonies published by De Morgen were pointing in the same direction, I spoke out publicly during a demonstration.
Our rector told us at the beginning of this academic year that, and I quote, “we overstep our academic freedom when we express ourselves publicly by using our expert status to express opinions that are outside our field of competence”.
So I will obey him, and clarify at the outset what competence I am talking about here.
It is at the outset my competence as a human being, committed to ensuring that every member of the human species is respected and given equal opportunity.
It also starts with my competence as a member of the university community for over 40 years.
Since February 15, I have received many, many testimonies from members of the staff and the student community.
I would like to read a few excerpts, free of any information that would identify anyone. This, Mr. Rector, is my competence as a reader and a spokesperson.
TESTIMONIES (SAMPLES, ALL TAKEN FROM SITUATIONS THAT HAVE NOT YET GONE TO COURT)
“He was the dean and I was his secretary. He harassed me to the point that at the end of the day, I would lock myself in my office with the lights off to finish my work, afraid he would come. I filed a complaint and alerted Rector Blondel. He answered me saying “what do you want me to do?”. I was even told that my children, who were studying in the same faculty, would be in trouble if I did not withdraw my complaint… I left UCLouvain and my job, disgusted. I had to sell my house to pay my lawyer. This dean still has responsibilities at the university. The trial still hasn’t happened.”
“I was his doctoral student. He kept devaluing my work and the work of other PhD students. He also told me that having a child was not compatible with research, which he said was a ‘calling’. He was doing the same thing with other PhD students. I alerted the President of the Institute. He himself is a former doctoral student of the harasser. The President lectured me, saying that I was very sensitive, and that the professor in question was from another generation. As for the President of the doctoral committee, he warned me about the omerta at UCLouvain… I observed that nobody in the Institute dared to say anything, because the harasser was powerful, and made it clear that he might not write letters of recommendation that are essential in a scientific career.”
“I was his postdoc. He would steal my ideas and publish them under his name, while devaluing me. My health deteriorated as a result, the authorities placed me with another professor, without the first one being sanctioned. I did not recover, and did not get the FNRS position I dreamed of. I left UCLouvain and now work in administration, below my competences. The one who harassed me was promoted to full professor, and has other responsibilities in the university authorities.”
“I was her subordinate. She started to send me ambiguous text messages that did not hide her desire to force a sexual relationship on me, even though she was my superior. I told her to stop. She continued. I complained. I left the university.”
“I was taking an oral exam with this well-known professor. I had answered all his questions well, but he said to me: ‘Miss, you answered very well, but you know what you can do to improve your grade, if you don’t want to have to come back to see me in September…’ (this was said with gestures suggestive enough to leave no doubt about the professor’s wishes). In September, the same scenario repeated itself… No punishment. This teacher is still in function.”
The Labor Court of Wavre reminded UCLouvain in its October 7 ruling that there is a 1996 law that deals with well-being at work. This law is not fully respected. The Court even condemned UCLouvain for “psychological violence” towards the complainant, Pre Nieberding.
It is the Court that says so, not me.
Instead of appealing this decision, the authorities should listen to the victims, to the members of its staff and of the student community who complain or who denounce, sometimes for years, the toxic situations in which they try to work or study.
The authorities should look themselves in the mirror, as suggested by the President of the University Board of Governors at the beginning of the academic year.
Finally, the authorities of UCLouvain should,
⁃ rather than instructing their lawyers to try to demonstrate that it is the victims’ fault they are being harassed,
⁃ rather than having them plead that the university is “powerless” (and I quote) to stop the harassment situations,
⁃ rather than appealing court decisions that have condemned the behavior of these authorities,
⁃ rather than accept that the courts have equated this behavior with psychological abuse of the victims, who were hoping for something else,
⁃ rather than make speeches that no longer make sense,
the authorities of UCLouvain, starting with the Rector and every member of the Rector’s Council, should understand that appealing against the decision of the President of the Labor Court of Wavre would be an insolent act, which will damage the reputation of the university even more than the situations condemned by the Court.
Only by clearly acknowledging the mistakes of the past, by wiping the slate clean of inadequate procedures, by establishing an ambitious plan for transitioning to a university that is at the forefront of respecting all members of its community, will the university move forward.
This plan will need to be implemented with the will and the means to do so.
This will require, among other things, the replacement or transfer of a series of out-of-place individuals in the Rector’s Council or in the administration, and the appointment of competent individuals with the necessary empathy.
Only in this way will our university be able to celebrate its 600th anniversary in 2025 with dignity, of course by being a place of high-quality research and teaching, but also, and this is essential, by becoming exemplary in terms of well-being at work and at school. UCLouvain could be the first in this ranking if it so wished. This is a great opportunity!
Thank you for your attention
Pr Jean-Pascal van Ypersele
October 13, 2022
Maître Alonso talks to RTBF radio regarding the decision of the labor court, listen below:
La Libre has so far published the most up to date article, read it here.
Reaction of Prof. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele after the condemnation of UCLouvain for violence at work towards Prof. Caroline Nieberding
I am saddened that the authorities of the university to which I am very attached still do not understand that they are responsible for the very poor management of discrimination and situations of moral and/or sexual violence or harassment that prevail within it (including in the student community).
The judgement of the President of the Labour Court of Wavre is however very clear in this respect.
I hope that the Rector, the Vice-Rector for Personnel Policy and the members of the Rector’s Council will realize in time that to actually go to appeal against the court’s decision constitutes an aggravation of one of the situations of violence at work that I denounced as early as June 2021 to the highest authorities of UCLouvain.
I ask that the Board of Directors of UCLouvain calm down and focus as soon as possible on the necessary structural reforms so that the Catholic University of Louvain finally respects the law, the Istanbul Convention on combating violence against women, and the UN Sustainable Development Goal n°5 on gender equality.
Prof. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele
8 October 2022
Maître Violaine Alonso publishes a new press release detailing the most important points made by the judge of the labor court. The full press release is available here.
– The court highlights that “certain adopted measures are “counter productive” since they were likely to amplify the objectified suffering of Mrs Nieberding”.
– The court states that “the employer, by using the disciplinary right (…) committed an abuse”. Maître Alonso adds to that by saying that “the court qualifies this abuse as psychological violence towards Professor Nieberding”.
– With regard to the exclusion of Mrs. Nieberding from a research pole in the Earth and Life Institute the court says: “the behavior of the employer, by maintaining this measure, has as only consequence a reinforcement of the ostracisation of Mrs Nieberding.
Professor Nieberding states in a response to the ruling of the court: “I am very relieved with the ruling. I hope it will put an end to 14 years of stress for me and allow me to develop my career with peace of mind. I was forced to file a lawsuit after seeing the lack of any form of support for my requests for help at the highest level of management during the years of internal proceedings I conducted while trying all available options. Worse, I was punished for daring to speak out against real dysfunctions. My situation shows that it is unfortunately necessary to bring the Belgian legal system into play to hope to obtain respectful and fair working conditions, even in Belgium and even in 2022. I hope that my actions will give courage to other women who live in situations similar to mine and to turn to the justice system of our country to be heard. ”
UCLouvain will appeal the decision of the court, as mentioned by the RTBF and De Morgen. The RTBF quotes the response of UCLouvain to the verdict, stating that the university will appeal “in order to defend its rights, as well as those of its staff members”. “UCLouvain deplores the fact that this conflict has led to such a decision, despite numerous attempts at appeasement and conciliation initiated by the university.”
Yet, Pr. Nieberding is part of the staff members of UCLouvain and she continues to be ostracized (as indicated by the Auditeur de travail, see below) without an official attachment to a research pole within the Earth and Life Institute.
The verdict is in:
“UCLouvain convicted of workplace violence against biology professor.”
Here is the short press release by Jean-Pascal van Ypersele translated from French:
UCLouvain is condemned for violence at work
This Friday, October 7, 2022, the judgment of the President of the Labour Court of Walloon Brabant was handed down following the action for injunction brought against UCLouvain by Professor Caroline Nieberding.
The Court has recognized the existence of psychological violence suffered by Professor Caroline Nieberding in the context of her work at UCLouvain, and has ordered the cessation of such violence through various measures.
A second press release will be published this Saturday morning, with more details.
The following persons are available to discuss this matter:
– Mr. Jean-Pascal van YPERSELE
Professor em. of climatology and environmental sciences at the UCLouvain and support of Professor NIEBERDING
E-mail address : firstname.lastname@example.org (where a telephone appointment can be requested)
– Me Violaine ALONSO
Lawyer and barrister of Brussels and adviser of Professor NIEBERDING in this file will be available on Saturday
The Earth and Life Institute, of which Pr. Nieberding is a part, publishes a statement on the website of UCLouvain, which can be found in full here.
The student movement COMAC publishes a brilliant response to the public statement of the Earth and Life Institute that can be found here. They ask the question what the organization of this institute is doing, quoting some of the words used: “victim speech”, “egalitarianism to the point of absurdity”, “reign of intolerance”. To quote the students: “In particular, the Bureau hopes that justice < will not give in to the currents of modern times where intolerance reigns and the accusation triumphs by the mere fact of existence >, contrasting with the reality of aggression on the campus and their treatment.” It is an excellent example indeed of how the university deals with complaints of harassment and discrimination.
My amazing colleague Caroline Nieberding was heard by the labor court of Wallonia on Friday September 16th to acquire an immediate termination of the harassment and discrimination that she continues to face at her university.
Having been present during the court session, I will highlight some points that were not yet covered by the press:
The Auditeur du Travail (i.e., the public prosecutor for the labor court) made three statements with regard to the situation of Pr. Nieberding:
1) exclusion of Pr. Nieberding from her department is an ostracization and constitutes abusive conduct;
2) the official warning that Pr. Nieberding received is in itself not abusive, but should be considered within the larger scope, which is that the university did not deal appropriately with the situation;
3) starting a disciplinary commission for addressing a colleague about sexually harassing Pr. Nieberding at the start of her career is not proportional and shows partiality of the authorities.
Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele is invited to speak about harassement and discrimination at UCLouvain by RTL (see the full video here). He states: “Victims are very often afraid to file a complaint because they don’t trust the systems that are in place, which are quite inadequate, and are not independent. And the tendency of the authorities so far has been to sweep these problems under the rug to dismiss the harassers and the harassed when that’s not going to solve the problem”. He concludes by saying that “…I think the university needs to fundamentally reform itself, reform the system, and heads need to roll”.
Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele speaks about numerous cases of harassment and discrimination at UCLouvain and the lack of response from the University. He proposes that an independent organisation needs to take on reported cases of harassment and discrimination to avoid increased harassment of those that speak up and wiping cases under the rug. You can find the video here.
Sudpresse reports about the demonstration on March 8 and Jean-Pascal van Ypersele’s speech saying that “Complaints that are older than six months cannot be heard. They go through the CESI, an authority paid by UCLouvain to cover this kind of problem. But the reading of a file sometimes takes more than six months, the complaints are then no longer admissible.” “This system is deeply unhealthy, concludes professor van Ypersele.”
De Morgen is the first newspaper in Belgium to expose abuse of power at the Belgian universities. The newspaper quotes the Institut for Equality between Women and Men stating that there is a file for almost every university in Belgium. Why is this happening? De Morgen writes that 1) “Machtige mannen zwaaien met de plak”, meaning that “Powerful men reign”; 2) “A strong hierarchy complicates speaking up”; 3) “Potjes blijven gedekt”, which translates into the omerta that persists and facts are being covered up. The full article can be found here.