On 18 October, the university announced in a press statement that one of its professors will not be allowed to return to the university after he was found to have engaged in various forms of abuse of power and undesirable behaviour. The Board would not disclose his name at the time but on Wednesday, Mare revealed that the accused is a professor at the Observatory. Multiple sources have independently informed Mare that the professor in question is Tim de Zeeuw.
NRC was the first to make the name public.
De Zeeuw has been a professor in Leiden since 1991 and between 2007 and 2017, he was director of the European Southern Observatory (ESO). In 2018, he was appointed a Knight in the Order of the Dutch Lion. De Zeeuw is a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.
ABUSE OF POWER
According to the Complaints Committee that investigated the abuses, there was evidence of ‘a systematic pattern of slander, abuse of power, gender discrimination, public humiliation and the constant threat of damage to the complainants’ professional careers’.
The professor has also made ‘sexually-charged’ comments and, in one instance, the committee found that he had made ‘unwanted physical approaches’ to an employee.
The Executive Board decided that De Zeeuw would not be allowed to return to the university, supervise PhD candidates or use the facilities provided to professors and professors emeritus. He does, however, get to keep his professorial title and salary.
This case caused a lot of uproar in the academic community, with much speculation as to the astronomer’s identity by both domestic and foreign academics. Several researchers argued that not disclosing the name only added to the unsafe atmosphere, which is exactly what the university wanted to prevent, and that it would lead to the suspicion of innocent parties. One professor even felt compelled to report on Twitter that he was not the removed professor in question.
In an earlier interview, president of the Executive Board Annetje Ottow said that the university was not allowed to disclose the name due to privacy legislation. ‘We think it’s incredibly important to be transparent whenever we can and to show that we don’t tolerate this. At the same time, we are very much bound by the privacy regulations because this concerns a person and employee. Hence, I can’t say anything that can be traced back to this person’, the president said.
In a later column published on the university website, she added that ‘violating this privacy could cause even more harm to those involved’.
The fact that De Zeeuw gets to keep his title and salary also led to scorn on social media. The reason given by the university is that 'this professor's academic integrity is indisputable'. In the column, Ottow stated that she could not explain this further without revealing the professor’s identity. ‘The measures taken will prevent future occurrences of this unacceptable behaviour in our buildings because that is what we can control (as opposed to behaviour outside the University).’
However, sources close to the complainants have told Mare that the wronged persons in fact want the name to be made public. ‘They most definitely want that, as soon as possible’, says one source. ‘The complainants fear he may continue his misconduct at other institutes where he holds a position (the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany, Ed.).’ The complainants did not want to speak to Mare. According to the nearby source, they were under instructions not to discuss the case with outsiders. The university denies issuing a gag order.
Despite repeated attempts by Mare, De Zeeuw could not be reached for comment.
Written in collaboration with Anoushka Kloosterman