University removes astronomy professor after ‘extremely undesirable behaviour’
A Leiden University professor of astronomy has engaged in intimidating and undesirable behaviour for an extended period of time. Today, the Executive Board announced that the professor, who had previously been suspended, will not be allowed to return.
Sebastiaan van Loosbroek
Wednesday 19 October 2022
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The university Board said that they cannot disclose who the dismissed academic is due to privacy law, but multiple sources have confirmed to Mare that it is a professor of astronomy. University spokesperson Caroline van Overbeeke declined to confirm.

The transgressive behaviour had been taking place for years, until last May, when four female employees reported the matter to the dean. Several witnesses came forward as well, including male witnesses. The dean proceeded to inform the Board that same day. Shortly afterwards, the Board commissioned an investigation by the independent Complaints Committee.

The name of the professor in question was not reported. It is also unclear which institute and faculty he was involved with. With the start of the committee’s investigation, the professor was suspended.

On Tuesday, the Executive Board decided that he would not be allowed to return to the university, supervise PhD candidates or use the facilities provided to professors and professors emeritus.


The Executive Board is shocked by the complaints and the findings of the Complaints Committee.

'We are deeply saddened that these complaints have persisted and that this behaviour has caused harm to so many people’

‘We are deeply saddened by the fact that these complaints have persisted for so long and that this behaviour has been able to cause harm to so many people’, says the president of the Executive Board Annetje Ottow in the press report.


On Tuesday night, she revealed in a discussion with Mare that there was evidence of ‘abuse of power and undesirable behaviour’. This involved ‘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.

Ottow would not comment on what the professor had to say in the conversation with the Executive Board and later with the Complaints Committee. However, she does say that the committee proceeded with ‘extreme care’ during its investigation. For instance, not only the complainants’ and witnesses’ reports were used to establish the truth, but also written documents.

'I’m mortified. He will never ever be welcome at this university again’

Based on those findings and the conversation with the professor, the decision was made to permanently remove him from the university. ‘He will never ever be welcome at this university again’, Ottow said.


Still, this is not the same thing as an official dismissal. ‘Since the committee has also found that the academic integrity of this professor is indisputable, there are no grounds to strip him of his professorship.’ This means he will still be able to conduct research for the university, but will no longer be allowed to teach or show up in the workplace. (See below for more information)

In her press statement, Ottow said she is ‘taking a critical look’ at ‘the lessons we as a university need to learn from this and at how we can ensure that in the future, undesirable behaviour is addressed at an earlier stage, also in the form of prevention’. To this end, it is ‘important that people do not feel impeded in their ability to report and discuss undesirable behaviour. Identifying the undesirable behaviour and removing the professor is not enough. We’re already doing a lot, but we really need to do even better.’

‘I’m mortified’, she added on Tuesday night. ‘I was deeply saddened after talking to the complainants and I feel terrible about the fact that this has happened. I’m going to be frank: the organisation should have recognised this earlier and taken action sooner. The point is that as an employer, you have an obligation to provide a safe working environment and you have to organise the system accordingly. Simply establishing a reporting desk for people to contact is not enough. We’ll be working with the deans to see if we’re alert enough to this kind of behaviour and to find out how we can improve safety.’

Update on research

On Wednesday the university spokesperson said: 'The person in question is no longer allowed to do research as a staff member, but will be able to use his title of professor in future publications. His title was not taken from him by the Board. He may state that he is a professor at Leiden University in publication, but he cannot speak out publicly on behalf of the university.' 

The professor will also keep his salary. On the question why he the professor was allowed to keep his position, the spokesperson stated that 'there are legal reasons why he was not fired, but we cannot go into this due to privacy reasons.' According to her, being barred from university grounds has a 'similar effect' to being fired.

On top of that, the professor is not allowed to contact university colleagues. 'With regards to his unwanted behaviours, we find it necessary that he cannot contact any colleagues, complainants or witnesses,' said Van Overbeeke. ‘Of course we cannot prohibit staff members from contacting him themselves, but vice versa is out of the question.'

Sources have revealed to Mare that legal proceedings are ongoing. Van Overbeeke could not confirm that: 'The university cannot state anything about legal proceedings started by either complainants or the accused, that is also covered by their privacy.'