Utrechts Conservatorium in Pointer episode about transgressive behaviour in the classical music sector

  • 10 november 2023
- HKU’s response without having the Pointer episode shared with us -

On Sunday, 12 November, the Dutch TV show Pointer broadcast an episode about transgressive behaviour in the classical music sector. Utrechts Conservatorium is also appearing in this episode. Transgressive behaviour in the music industry and at conservatoriums must be countered in every possible way. HKU finds it important that this subject gets – and keeps getting – the attention it deserves, including attention in the media. It drives us to learn and improve while creating a safe learning and working environment at Utrechts Conservatorium and HKU.
Utrechts Conservatorium in Pointer episode about transgressive behaviour in the classical music sector
Since March this year, HKU is aware that a former student reported a case of transgressive behaviour by a teacher at Utrechts Conservatorium that happened 20 years ago, and the serious consequences she still experiences to this day in result. We thank her for this report. It takes courage to do so. We responded to this report thoroughly and started an investigation.

In response to new signals, of which the management was not aware, we are proceeding with a follow-up investigation by an external investigation bureau. We value a proper and fair hearing of all parties involved. This is also part of a safe learning and working environment: we would always want to prevent a trial by media. This investigation is not only focused on the signals itself, but also on the reasons why these signals did not come through. This investigation is still ongoing, and we won’t comment on it here. During such an external investigation, our policy is that the employee under scrutiny is not actively working for HKU.

What does HKU do to create a safe learning and working environment?

At HKU, we work intensively on a safe learning and working environment, which is a never-ending and continuous point of attention. Four years ago, we intensified these efforts. Transgressive behaviour affects HKU to its core. Especially in music and art education, staff members must be aware that they serve a special role, and interact with students in a hierarchical relation. A relation that is furthermore characterised by trust and dependency. Since 2022, we have a new Code of Conduct, along with corresponding practical guidelines, which we practice, express and discuss in every way possible.

Another example, is that students have an insightful help chart that quicky directs them to the right support when they have a question, report, or urgent complaint. HKU has four internal - and one external - confidential counsellors and one ombudsperson. In the final assessments of student works, we always apply the four-eyes principle. Every new staff member and student receives our code of conduct, with regular mandatory training programmes in social safety for all staff members. We continuously focus the attention on social safety via, among others, posters in all bathroom areas, messages on the intranet, digital signage and in newsletters.

Students and staff members who talk with our confidential counsellors, can indicate that they wish to remain anonymous. They decide whether they want to proceed to a complaints procedure or not, whereby the counsellor can guide them in that process at their request. It happens regularly that students desire anonymity. We respect this. However, the confidential counsellor does request, as a standard by now, permission to report the signal under the guarantee of anonymity. Over the last years, each formal complaint has been processed thoroughly, with fitting consequences in which the person filing the complaint is always involved. These consequences range from discussion of the malpractices and formal warnings to termination of contract.

Doing better every day

We are very sad to learn that (former) students experienced undesirable or unsafe conduct during their studies at Utrechts Conservatorium. No type of transgressive behaviour should remain unspoken or unchallenged. In this regard, we are learning every day. We must do better: more openness, more general awareness, and making sure everyone acts accordingly.

The number of reports has increased in recent years. This is a desired effect, because openness is a precondition for being able to actually stop or prevent transgressive behaviour. These reports include various kinds of situations, ranging from uncertainty to serious transgressive behaviour; between students, between students and employees, and sometimes between staff members themselves. We greatly appreciate it when (former) students and (former) staff members who witnessed an unsafe or undesirable situation, for themselves or others, are willing to talk to us.