Internal report reveals widespread transgressive behaviour at Ghent University

An internal report has outlined the extent of transgressive behaviour towards doctoral students at Ghent University, De Standaard reported on Friday. The university’s approach to tackling the problem also falls short, it shows, with young researchers not having confidence in the reporting process.

Based on interviews with 120 young researchers from 10 faculties, the report paints an unpleasant picture of the university’s working culture and its approach to dealing with inappropriate behaviour. This includes a toxic work environment, an unreasonable workload, a culture of favouritism and the power of promoters.

The report shows the majority of researchers are made to perform tasks during their PhD that were never agreed on. Researchers from almost all faculties indicate that they have to provide fictitious figures about how many hours they teach.

Public humiliation

There is a “structural lack of feedback” and an “excessive hierarchical structure” with promoters abusing their power. Young researchers describe shouting, public humiliation and sexism.

The report also refers to racism and discrimination. One supervisor, according to respondents, has an active policy of attracting Chinese PhD students “to cultivate a kind of forced labour”. In another research group, non-Belgian researchers routinely have to work longer days because they are assigned extra maintenance tasks.

The report calls for a thorough overhaul of Trustpunt, the UGent reporting point. The helpline itself was also criticised, with several people saying they didn’t trust those working there. The board will consider the report next week. Rector Rik Van de Walle says the testimonies “are very painful but credible” and the issue must remain “an absolute priority”.



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