The shame of Leiden University
Leiden University found guilty in the High Court, The Hague, Netherlands, 19th June 2019, following a major employment law scandal, for defamation of a renowned British linguist, Vyvyan Evans, and breaching his confidentiality.
Three Leiden University officers were involved in the scandal and attempt at cover up, including the Rector, Carel Stolker, Head of Linguistics Institute, Niels Schiller, and former Dean Wim van Den Doel. Schiller in particular was lambasted in the court verdict.
Personal Statement: In April 2016 a world-leading authority on English Linguistics, British Professor Vyv Evans, was invited to attend an interview at Leiden University’s Centre for Linguistics (LUCL), for an advertised vacancy as Professor and Chair of English Linguistics.
Leiden is the oldest university in the Netherlands and boasts a world-leading linguistics research institute. But unknown to Evans, the Director of LUCL, Professor Niels Schiller, who was a senior member of the Selection Committee, conspired with others to sabotage Evans’s candidacy; Schiller harboured a secret theoretical grudge against Evans, due to a well-known book published by Evans in 2014, entitled The Language Myth. Schiller contacted an acquaintance, Ineke Mennen, Professor of Applied Linguistics, working at University of Graz in Austria, whom he discovered was negatively predisposed towards Evans. Schiller invited Mennen to write a highly negative and defamatory letter about Evans, which she agreed to do on condition that he kept her identity secret. Mennen provided the letter to Schiller on her university’s letterhead. Schiller read out the letter to the Leiden Selection Committee, presenting it as if it were a letter from a direct co-worker, who worked at the same institution as Evans (Bangor University, UK). Schiller claimed that all Evans’ colleagues at Bangor felt the same level of disdain towards Evans.
This use of the letter, in the committee, was approved, in advance, by the Dean, and Chair of the selection committee, Professor Wim van den Doel, who failed to check Schiller’s motives, the credentials of the letter’s author (whether Mennen was a direct colleague of Evans’ at Bangor, as claimed by Schiller), and her motives; moreover, van den Doel even resisted attempts by another committee member to prevent Schiller from using the anonymous and defamatory letter during the voting process. Schiller’s actions ensured that Evans’ candidacy was sabotaged.
Schiller’s “dirty letter” became an open secret at Leiden University, and Evans became aware that Schiller had conspired to illegally sabotage his candidacy. Evans initiated legal proceedings against the University. The Rector of Leiden University, Carel Stolker admitted, in writing, to Evans’ lawyers, that there had been “irregularities” in the selection process that adversely affected Evans, and initially offered to re-run the selection process. This offer was subsequently withdrawn. The Rector refused to say what the “irregularities” were, and the University initially denied the existence of an anonymous letter. Moreover, Schiller even wrote a statement, submitted by Leiden University to the High Court in The Hague asserting that he had never sought information on Evans, in a vain attempt by the University to prevent fact-finding witness hearings. During the trial Leiden were eventually compelled to reveal the defamatory letter written by Mennen and used by Schiller.
A series of four witness hearings followed at the High Court in The Hague, from December 2016 to June 2017. In these hearings, led by a high court judge, van den Doel—now an Executive Director at the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)—as well as Schiller and Stolker all, for the first time, admitted under oath, to the illegal activities. Evidence was also uncovered that the Rector, Carel Stolker attempted to cover-up the illegal activity, having claimed he had initiated an internal investigation before subsequently denying the existence of an investigation.
Evans subsequently sued Leiden University, and the three university officers, for damage caused. Following a trial on March 6th 2019, the High Court in the Hague ruled, on June 19th 2019, that Leiden University had acted illegally, that it had breached its own regulations, breached Evans’ rights, his confidentiality and defamed him. He was awarded legal fees against the University, and a claim for damages, the exact amount to be established at a later hearing. Evans regards the ruling as a vindication after a three year legal quest to uncover the truth, and obtain justice. "This is good news from my perspective," says Evans from England. "But it doesn't make me happy, because it shows how badly Leiden University treats people." Evans’ lawyer termed the judgement “A disgrace for the university, an organisation that according to Professor Stolker [Leiden University’s Rector] lives off its reputation. That reputation has now suffered a considerable blow."
To date, Schiller remains in post as Professor and Director of the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics, Van den Doel is Executive Director at the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, while Stolker continues in his role as Rector Magnificus at Leiden University. The Board of Governors, of Leiden University, have previously ignored Evans’ repeated warnings that the Rector and other Leiden University officers were acting in a way that has brought the oldest university in The Netherlands into disrepute.
Read my blog post: The Use and Abuse of 'Backdoor' Reference Checks in Universities: Violating the Human to Manage the Resource
July 24th 2019 Dutch university sought secret references on UK linguist. Leiden University acted unlawfully, a court has ruled, in using anonymous letter to discredit an applicant for a professorship. Times Higher Education
June 20th 2019 Leiden University convicted of acting against job applicant: Linguist Vyvyan Evans is entitled to compensation Leidsch Dagblad
June 19th 2019 Leiden University acted unlawfully in an application process Nu.nl
June 19th 2019 University loses trial brought by linguist Mare
March 7th 2019 “My career is destroyed" Mare
March 6th 2019 Application scandal at Leiden after 'rumour over a drink' De Telegraaf
June 22nd 2017 Court case: Language professor vs. university Mare
April 6th 2017 Language professor fights on Mare
December 8th 2016 As they say on TV: “Are you the leak?” Mare
September 30th 2016 Leiden officers called as witnesses in application scandal NRC
September 29th 2016 Professor demands Rector as a witness Mare
June 24th 2016 English professorship goes to court over treatment by Leiden's application