University of Tartu professor demanding €2,000 from alum over word usage

The main building at the University of Tartu (TÜ).
The main building at the University of Tartu (TÜ). Source: Andres Tennus/University of Tartu

University of Tartu (TÜ) faculty member Ene Selart is demanding nearly €2,000 from university alumnus Henry-Laur Allik over the latter's word usage in anonymous feedback left via the university's study information system (ÕIS) in 2018.

In a public Facebook post (link in Estonian) published on Tuesday night, TÜ alumnus Henry-Laur Allik, who earned a bachelor's degree in journalism in 2019, wrote that his former professor Ene Selart together with her lawyer Ivo Kallas are demanding Allik pay Selart €2,144 in an out-of-court compromise over negative feedback that Allik had provided via ÕIS during the 2017-2018 school year. The sum is being demanded in the form of a donation to the Estonian Institute of Human Rights.

In spring 2018, Selart taught the course "History of Estonian Journalism," which was taken by Allik. In his Facebook post, Allik said that he provided as honest feedback as possible at the time, but admitted that he had been impolite in doing so.

Feedback provided via ÕIS is visible to both faculty and other ÕIS users. Both the University of Tartu homepage and ÕIS itself state, however, that this feedback is anonymous and that answers are saved in non-personalized form, due to which specific feedback cannot be tied to specific individuals by either either faculty or program directors.

Selart goes to court

According to a Tartu County Court ruling, on January 13, Ene Selart filed an application for the launch of a proceeding to collect evidence in order to receive information allowing for the identification of an individual from the University of Tartu, including the IP address, name, email address and phone number of the person to leave the feedback in question.

On January 29, the University of Tartu released Allik's information to the court. According to Allik, he was not informed of this until March 6, when he received a demand letter with a ten-day deadline for payment. Allik said that due to the emergency situation and economic recession, he was given a "discount" of 11.3 percent, and the latest demand was for €1,900.

The court ruling also contained quotes from the feedback in question:

"For so long as Ene Selart is in charge, avoid this class like the plague. If you dare take this class, then know that what awaits you is the teacher with the most mongoloid behavior in the journalism program. She does everything she can to ensure that you will not enjoy this class. Even the biggest history fans clutch at their heads. God help you!"

"The teacher was a real mongol and did everything she could to ensure that the students feel bad."

Allik called Selart confrontational as he found that she would shame students verbally, demean them, renege on promises and violated the university's best teaching practices.

"If I had known that critical feedback is simply traceable and one can later have money demanded of them and be attacked (even after graduating) for it, then I would have just left the boxes blank on the feedback page," Allik wrote in his Facebook post. "That isn't the idea behind the feedback, but it would have been enough to fool the system. I didn't do so in good faith, and I fulfilled my obligation [to provide feedback] and warned future university students about a confrontational teacher."

Professor: No comment

Ivo Kallas, Selart's lawyer, told ERR that neither he nor Selart wished to comment on the incident, as the circumstances are delicate.

Allik wrote that the director of TÜ's Institute of Social Studies had launched a conciliation procedure, but conciliation has yet to take place due to the ongoing emergency situation. Allik had proposed postponing the planned initial meeting due to the fact that he comes in daily contact with various people in his work as a journalist and he did not want to potentially spread the coronavirus. [Allik works as a Tartu correspondent for ERR. -ed.]

According to the alumnus, however, Kallas interpreted this as a failure to appear on Allik's part and was unwilling to agree to a new meeting. Now Allik is afraid he will have to take the matter to court.

TÜ doesn't typically release info

TÜ Vice Rector for Academic Affairs Aune Valk told ERR that neither teaching faculty nor any other university staff have the right to demand the information of people who have left anonymous feedback.

"In the case in question, the teacher turned to Tartu County Court, following which the court issued an injunction requiring the university to release the requested personal data to the court," Valk said. "The release of the personal data to the court was compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)."

According to the vice rector, the university considers it important to stress that the matter in question is a conflict between two people, and that the university is not a party to this dispute. She added that the university has also attempted to reconcile the parties, but to no avail.

It is possible to delete comments from ÕIS upon the request of the teacher.

"Previously, over the past ten years, fewer than ten comments have been deleted," Valk said. "This comment was also deleted immediately after the teacher contacted us in summer 2018."


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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