How do US scientists assess German universities

Intellectual civil war at universities? Scientists complain of intimidation

JENA. The freedom of science, research and teaching is guaranteed in the Basic Law. Recently, however, protests against controversial thinkers have been making headlines again and again, and there has been talk of attempted intimidation. Is Freedom of Science at Risk?

Scientists are increasingly concerned about the freedom of research and teaching. Spectacular cases that recently hit the headlines make the problem clear - whether lectures by AfD co-founder Bernd Lucke in Hamburg were massively disrupted or the Berlin political scientist Herfried Münkler was exposed to anonymous criticism from an internet blog. The topic is also present at the university in Jena. “There is now an ethics of conviction that puts conviction before science,” warns the sociologist Professor Klaus Dörre, who teaches there.

Language regulations for university teachers

He reports that a colleague had been asked not to treat the US scientist Samuel Huntington (“Clash of Cultures”) because he was “a cultural racist”. There have also been attempts to give teachers linguistic rules as to which terms may and may not be used. “There are many colleagues who have had such experiences. That has clearly increased », says Dörre. This is not only coming from the political left, but also to a far greater extent from the right. He had been attacked several times by identities on the Internet.

"At the German universities - of course especially at those in the metropolises - there is a kind of intellectual civil war over the question of which political opinions should and should not be allowed," states the philosophy professor emeritus Klaus-Michael Kodalle. He and his colleague Nikolaus Knoepffler, head of the Ethics Center at the University of Jena, also complain that incidents are increasing in which attempts are made to prevent scientists from giving lectures or to intimidate them. They do not only refer to the cases of Lucke and Münkler in Hamburg and Berlin.

Elsewhere, too, people were mobilized against people at universities. As recent examples, they cite the Australian philosopher Peter Singer, the historian Jörg Baberowski (Berlin), the Frankfurt ethnologist Susanne Schröter and a series of lectures in Siegen to which the philosopher Dieter Schönecker also invited decidedly right-wing thinkers. Only Schröter in Frankfurt had the backing of their university management.

On the other hand, supposedly left-wing scientists are also attacked - as can be seen from the example of gender research. “The federal and state governments are no longer allowed to provide funds for gender research and no longer fill gender professorships,” says the AfD, for example. The accusation: gender studies are not a real science or, as the Konstanz evolutionary biologist Axel Meyer puts it: “Anyone reading articles by the most famous gender researcher Judith Butler immediately notices that her statements are largely based on ideology and activism and less on empirical and scientific foundations . "

Scientifically arguing must be possible

"The fact that you have to be hostile because you confront your students with controversial theses is extremely problematic," emphasizes Knoepffler. "Do we really want to go back to a state in which someone in society dictates what can and cannot be represented at a university?" According to the philosopher and theologian, it must be possible, especially at universities, to deal with controversial opinions and ideas. It is not just about dealing with the theses themselves, but also with their representatives - without these having to make “apologies” or, as it were, being “excommunicated”.

Last year, the German University Association - a professional association of more than 30,000 scientists - issued a resolution urging them to respect and endure contradicting opinions at universities. "Differences with those who think differently are to be resolved in argumentative arguments - not with boycotts, bashing, bullying or even violence." Universities should also offer a forum for “uncomfortable, unpleasant opinions”. «The Basic Law only binds freedom of teaching to loyalty to the constitution. There are no further bans on thinking and speaking. "

Jena's University President Walter Rosenthal also recognizes an increasing “narrowing”. "From my point of view, there must not be a ban on confrontations with certain scientists who have made anti-Semitic statements, for example." Purism is wrong here. “That also becomes a problem for academic freedom. We have to take a critical look at this development. " In the event of massive disruptions to courses, evacuation may also be necessary, he explains when asked. But that depends on the individual case. He does not currently see such a problem for Jena.

Small, noisy groups apply pressure

"Even a Mr. Lucke must be able to give his lecture at the university," emphasizes Dörre with a view to Hamburg. "Conversely, I do not want to be banned from lecture because I consider Björn Höcke to be a fascist and a racist." From his point of view, it is completely legitimate if, for example, students in a course invite a debate about certain content. There is nothing wrong with such a one-off campaign. "Trying to intimidate colleagues or prevent them from holding a course, but I think that is wrong."

One must especially worry about the next generation of scientists, believes the philosopher Kodalle. In a climate where small, vocal groups put pressure on researchers and seek opinion leadership, young scientists may feel compelled to adapt rather than freely research and teach. The university management is called upon to stand resolutely in front of their scientists in cases of conflict and to take action against disruptions or intimidation attempts. He also sees the duty of colleagues at the respective faculties to stand up for the freedom of science together. News4teachers / with material from the dpa

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