In his yearly reports, the Ombuds Officer Han Warmelink outlines the cases that he’s handled, and lists recommendations for improvements at the UT. While the 2020-2021 annual report addressed the role and position of HR, this year the ombudsman focuses on the ‘culture of complaining’- and the fact that formal complaints should be normalised at the UT.
‘What is especially striking is the rather alarmed response from accused persons and managers, if the Ombuds Officer is called in or if formal proceedings are initiated,’ reads the report. ‘As a consequence of that alarmed response, there is a tendency to take a distinctly legal approach.’
Instead of ‘going on the defensive’, the Ombuds Officer would recommend to keep the lines of communication open and see how both parties can continue the working relationship. In Warmelink’s opinion, ‘complaints come with the territory’ at a complex institution such as a university. They should therefore not be seen as an attack, but as an opportunity to solve a problem and learn.
‘In other words, it would be wise to see reports and complaints not as an attack against which to arm and defend oneself, but as a means to challenge differences of opinion in an orderly setting if that proves impossible in other ways,’ states the report. ‘That change in mind-set will ‘normalise’ the use of the support structure at University of Twente.’
More cases of sexual harassment
When it comes to the amount and nature of reports, the Ombuds Officer mentions one noticeable development: the number of reports relating to sexual harassment is increasing gradually. Two years ago, three filed cases were related to intimidation or sexual harassment. This number now stands at six reports.
In his third year as the Ombuds Officer, Warmelink otherwise didn't identify any major trends or shifts. In academic year 2021-2022, there were 37 reports filed by staff members and only 4 by students. A year earlier, the Ombuds Officer received a total of 39 reports. The topics of reports also remained very similar to previous years. Damaged working relationships were once again the main reason for approaching the officer. The ombudsman also notes that Covid-19 and the measures taken in response hardly played any role in the reports.