German Universities are About to Drown!

Ed Philp, with some excerpts from an article (G) from this past week’s Spiegelonline, in which Bernhard Kempen was quoted on the subject of German university standards, and more specifically, the obligations upon professors at these universities. Bernhard Kempen is the president of the DHV – the Deutscher Hochschulverband, or German Association of Professors and College Teachers. According to Kempen, universities here "are about to drown".

Very important: I need to add that the hoster of this blog is employed by a German university and he has absolutely nothing to do with this post. As far as I know, he is happily, contentedly and often vocally enthusiastic about his position and his university. He has generously given me carte blanche to post here in his absence; nothing in this comment, or the following one, is any reflection on his personal views. Should he permit this post to remain on his blog (and even if he disagreed with every word of it, he probably would on principle) he bears no responsibility for its contents.

I’ll reproduce a number of Kempen’s other comments, translated / paraphrased as best I can:

– "If Germany’s federal and provincial governments continue with politics as usual, we will soon have to declare political-educational bankruptcy"

– "Above all, Germany needs more professors in order to improve the ratio of students per professor from 60:1" With the present proportion, the universities are not "internationally competitive"

– Faculty members exclusively devoted to teaching are indeed inexpensive, but cannot replace "valuable teaching that is constantly renewed by research"; they "can’t replace the creation of additional professorships"

– In a DHV statement issued at the DHV’s annual meeting, the DHV itself goes on to argue that "university professors who are wholly or mostly entrusted with teaching responsibilities don’t earn that  (professorial) designation"… however, the oft-cited unity of research and teaching "does not preclude excellent researchers from being relieved of their teaching obligations for short periods entirely, and for longer periods to a significant degree"

– "without additional financial incentives to reward excellent teaching, a long-term improvement in quality won’t be achievable"

At this DHV conference, Prof. Dr. Peter Huber, Chair of the German Law Faculty Association, apparently also weighed in – receiving applause – when he stated that "less teaching leads to better teaching: a threshold of pain has been reached with the 9 teaching hours required in most German states." "If you told a professor from the US that he would have to ‘read’ for nine hours a week, he wouldn’t even come here at all"

I’m going to mull over these comments and I’ll post my thoughts on these tomorrow. Don’t worry: it won’t be a reactionary knee-jerk crack at German profs. I’ve had too many good ones myself to do that. But it might be a knee-jerk shot back at Kempen. A bientot.

3 thoughts on “German Universities are About to Drown!

  1. So, an association of professors wants more professors, less teaching duties and more indulgence in research (or ‘research’)? Deh. You’d have to have the mind of a subservient German to take recommendations from the mouth of the horse itself. Next thing we’ll read on this fantastic blog: CEOs objectively finding that they need higher salaries, and Deutsche Bahn explaining that the world will end if they are made to let go of the rail network. Hey they said so!! It must be true!!!

  2. Martin – I don’t put these statements in the same category as a CEO who wants more pay, or a state corporation fighting to preserve its monopoly. I think German profs have a significant stake in ensuring that German education – which I have benefitted from, which I approve of in its ideal form as much if not more than the North American variety – maintains its advantages and keeps its broader interests in view. The great aspect of German higher education is its respected value within Germany and beyond – no German university is a paper mill churning out degrees to anyone who can pay for them, and hardly any could be dismissed as truly useless farms for people to simply ‘enjoy being a student’. There are no credit courses here on “Döner und Dauerwelle – Turkish Hairstyles and Mass Urban Culture” or “Transgender, Transcontinental – Drag Queens and the Development of the Railway”. “I am Charlotte Simmons” will never turn into “Ich bin (eine) Charlotte Schmidt”.

    I think German profs generally – and I have been privileged to have been mentored by a number – are poorly served by Kempen’s comments, precisely because he denigrates these issues to the same level you perceive them at. The ones I know well could do much better, if they had fifteen lines to waste in a Spiegel interview. Including the one I know well who donated 20,000 Euros of his own junior prof salary to ensuring the library could stay open in the evenings, or the one who responds to her students’ emails at 5 am in the morning, or the one who fights like a dog to get his best students into a top US graduate program, once personally paying to cover the initial application costs.

    If the profs themselves can’t make resonating arguments for the betterment of the universities, no-one else here will.

  3. If the profs themselves can’t make resonating arguments for the betterment of the universities, no-one else here will.

    Of course. Hell will freeze over before students here grant themselves thinking permission on these affairs.

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