Willem Elias quits as VUB dean after controversial Facebook post

Summary

The dean of the faculty of psychology and educational sciences has announced he is stepping down from the role following widespread criticism for his comments on Facebook after the suicide of Steve Stevaert

Fierce reactions

Professor Willem Elias of the Free University of Brussels (VUB) has announced that he is voluntarily giving up his position as dean of the faculty of psychology and education sciences. He was widely criticised for a Facebook post he made after the suicide of Flemish politician Steve Stevaert earlier this month.

Elias wrote on Facebook about his sadness at the death of his friend Stevaert (pictured), a former SP.A minister and provincial governor, and accused the woman who filed rape charges against Stevaert of having his death on her conscience.

Elias wrote: “The women… a weakness that we understand” and “you go to the police immediately after a rape, or at the most a day later. Not after three years.” Referring to elements of the case, he wrote: “Victims who are driven home by the chauffeur are even more rare.”

His statements immediately led to protest. Both the VUB and Elias himself apologised, but his reputation was seriously damaged. After checking his Facebook account, VUB found that he had made similar comments after French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn was accused of rape.

The VUB said in a statement that Elias believes he is unable to remain in post as dean because of the controversy. “The fierce reactions on social media, which hit him hard emotionally, played a role in taking this decision,” said the university, adding that trivialising rape was “the last thing he wanted to do”.

In a letter to psychology students, Elias again apologised to his faculty, the VUB and the victims of sexual violence. He said his case was “a prime example of how the use of social media can go wrong”.

Free University of Brussels (VUB)

The VUB was established as a spin-off of the French-speaking Université Libre de Bruxelles in the 1960s. It’s an internationally oriented and liberal institution, and the only Dutch-speaking university in the capital.
Work - The VUB is the largest Dutch-speaking employer of the Brussels-Capital Region.
St V - Every year, students honour university founder Pierre Theodore Verhaegen in a festive, booze-filled “St V” march through the city.
Campus - The VUB is the only Dutch-speaking university with a small, American-style green campus.
68

Master’s programmes offered

70

million euros in research budget in 2010

12 000

students in 2011-2012 academic year