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Ethics committee for partnerships launched

The ‘Committee for Assessing Ethical Aspects of Partnerships’ is being launched this month. This committee, created by Rector Magnificus Hester Bijl and consisting of former and present Leiden University researchers, has been tasked with assessing Leiden University’s institutional ties with organisations within and outside the Netherlands.

Last week, the Executive Board officially approved the committee and its task. The advice of the University Council regarding the committee’s composition and working method was taken into account in this process.

Our values

The university’s task is to acquire and transfer knowledge. A core value in this context is academic freedom. But this freedom is not absolute, and there may be good reasons to prioritise other values, such as universal human rights. It is important for the university to develop a framework for assessing this, to avoid ad hoc decisions and recurrent discussions. That is why Leiden University wants in the short term to establish a permanent advisory structure for these fundamental value considerations. The task of the temporary committee is to advise about such a framework in order to make these considerations.

In the past months, there have been several occasions when we were asked, as a university, to review our values. One of the reasons for creating this committee is the war in Israel and Palestine, and the strong emotions this conflict is evoking within and beyond the academic community. In response to the violence of the armed conflict, a number of student and staff groups demanded that institutional ties with Israeli universities be severed. Another reason for creating this committee is the question of whether, and if so in what capacity, we want to continue to cooperate with the fossil industry.

Right time

For these reasons, Rector Magnificus Hester Bijl believes that this is the right time to establish this temporary committee. ‘We have noticed that the ethical aspects of cooperation with our partners are increasingly attracting attention. That is a justified development, in my opinion: not only in society, but also in our own community, there is a feeling that this matter should be high on our agenda.’

The task of the committee is twofold. First, the committee will issue advice on how to carry out this assessment in future. This concerns a generic process. The committee will then issue a recommendation on how to evaluate our current institutional ties in areas of serious conflict, starting with Israel-Palestine. This evaluation will be launched as soon as the framework has been delivered.

‘Given the current turmoil, it makes sense for the committee to first consider ties with institutions in war zones, areas of conflict, and other places where human rights may be compromised’, Bijl continues. ‘This committee’s work is important, and I am extremely pleased that we have found a broad group of excellent experts willing to take on this task.’

Tasks and method

The committee has thus been asked to develop a working method for assessing national and international collaborations on ethical aspects, with a particular focus on human rights. The University Council has emphasised that national collaborations should also be reviewed, and this has been included in the committee’s task, too.

The committee will also devote specific attention to attuning with the wider community before issuing its recommendations on the proposed framework to the Executive Board. Thereafter, the Board will continue to attune with the University Council.

Composition of the committee

The committee consists of present and former Leiden University researchers who have held or currently hold managerial or project-based positions. In selecting committee members, specific attention was paid to achieving a good balance between the various academic disciplines. The committee will also seek specific expertise, for instance in the field of human rights.

The Committee members are:

  • Dirk Engberts, Professor Emeritus of Normative Aspects of Medicine
  • Antoaneta Dimitrova, Professor of Comparative Governance
  • Eric De Brabandere, Professor of International Dispute Settlement Law
  • Dorota Mokrosinska, Associate Professor of Ethics and Political Philosophy
  • Annemarie Samuels, Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology

In dialogue with the community

Joanne van der Leun, Professor of Criminology and former dean of the Faculty of Law, will chair the committee. ‘With this committee, we want to not only focus on existing insights, but also truly engage with our community. Connecting with young researchers is especially important to us. This focus on the younger generation is in line with the wish of the Ministry of Education and Culture to involve this group more closely in these types of processes.’

‘The committee will meet for the first time before the summer,’ adds Van der Leun. ‘The issue the committee must address is of course quite complex, but we hope to be able to produce a recommendation before the end of this calendar year.’

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