Dutch University Defends Women-Only Job Openings

Eindhoven University of Technology. (Photo credit: TU/e, Angeline Swinkels)

UTRECHT, Netherlands (CN) – A Dutch university and an anti-discrimination organization faced off Monday before the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights over a women-only hiring policy.

“This is an odd case,” Institute chairperson Corrie ter Veer said when she opened the hearing before a nearly full room. The case has attracted a lot of media attention in the Netherlands and most major press outlets were present for the hour and a half session.

It centers on the Eindhoven University of Technology’s change in its hiring policy in June. All teaching staff positions at the university will be open only to women for the first six months. If a suitable candidate isn’t found after that period of time, the position will then be opened to men.

The university plans to run the program for the next five years, though it will evaluate the results in 18 months and adjust the overall number of positions first open to women as necessary.

Of the university’s 613 professors, currently only 20% are women.

“We think it is very important to improve the numbers,” said Frank Baaijens, rector of the university.

Anti-discrimination group RADAR made an odd antagonist in Monday’s hearing. The group says it “strives for a society without exclusion that offers everyone equal opportunities” and praised Eindhoven University’s effort to appoint more women, but also said it has received over 50 complaints about the new policy.

“We don’t think it is odd that we are here. We think it is logical,” Sandra Duijvelshoff said after the hearing. Duijvelshoff and one of her colleagues represented the group during the proceeding.

RADAR considers the Eindhoven University policy to be an important test case and the group wants the Institute to clarify if it fits into existing Dutch and European Union policy.

“We consulted with a law firm which specializes in these cases before we announced our decision,” Baaijens said on behalf of the university.

Two similar cases before the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights were decided in favor of the universities. The University of Groningen provided financing for 12 faculty positions to only women in 2011, which the Institute said was acceptable. When the Technical University of Delft opened 10 positions exclusively to women in 2012, the Institute again approved the move.

Under both Dutch law and EU regulations, so-called positive discrimination is permitted under certain circumstances.

And if the Institute rules in favor of the Eindhoven University policy?

“We will be very happy. Then the issue will be clarified,” Duijvelshoff said for RADAR.

A decision is expected on Dec. 16. The ruling is not binding, but can be used as a basis for formal legal proceedings.

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