Statement of the Max Planck Society on current media reports about the MPI for Astrophysics

Max Planck Society commissions law firm as contact point for employees at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics

July 10, 2018

Leadership problems at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics were the subject of press coverage for the first time in February of this year. Internally, these complaints became known in 2016. Back then, the management of the Max Planck Society (MPG) took immediate action by ensuring that the director concerned would receive professional coaching in her day-to-day work (which is still the case today). To date, neither the MPG nor the Max Planck Institute have received any new complaints about bullying from the director’s department. We do not know if the emails that are being quoted in the press refer to past events or not.

In order to gain more transparency about the situation at the Institute, the Max Planck Institute commissioned an anonymous survey by a group of employees a few weeks ago. Its results are now available. 61 out of 115 young scientists took part in the survey, including 11 women. 84 percent of respondents are satisfied or even very satisfied with their supervisor at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics. That is 51 out of 61 respondents. A total of four respondents ­– two men and two women – state that they are dissatisfied. Two thirds of all respondents rate the social environment positively; eight out of 61 – four women and four men – are dissatisfied with it. Three out of 61 respondents report that they have had experiences with mobbing. Two individuals report that they have experienced sexual harassment. The survey does not contain information on who these allegations relate to and in which period they occurred.

According to the survey, less than half of respondents are still sufficiently aware of the relevant internal contact points for grievances. More than half of those questioned doubt whether the existing contact points at the Institutes are really helpful in solving the problems. These are important indications that the existing services of the Administrative Headquarters and the Institutes need to be better communicated. In fact, there are a number of confidential and central points of contact, such as the local works council, the equal opportunities officers at the institutes and in the Administrative Headquarters, the compliance officers, and the ombudspersons.

Any form of bullying or sexual harassment is contrary to the principles of the Max Planck Society. The Max Planck Society takes these allegations seriously. In order to arrive at an appropriate assessment, any allegations need to be substantiated. For this reason, the Max Planck Society has commissioned an external law firm those affected can turn to, and which ensures confidentiality. Those affected can decide for themselves whether they want to remain anonymous and whether their information should be forwarded. We hope that those affected will avail themselves of this option. The Max Planck Society will follow up all relevant information responsibly in order to clarify cases from the past.

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