German Universities are About to Drown!
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German Universities Drowning - Part 2

Ed Philp, with part 2 of the previous post. Knee-jerk apparently = Kniescheibenreflex. Who knew. Here goes… Comments on Kempen’s statements from the previous post:

- "If

Germany

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

Whatever that means. I know the DHV is essentially a lobby group for professors, but does the country’s academic lobby group have to use such embarassingly populist phrases? The original term used was ‚Offenbarungseid’ – essentially a disclosure of assets which a bankrupt person must present to the court. Perhaps it is time that a number of universities – and DHV members – actually presented such a statement.

- "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"

The competitiveness of German universities internationally does not rise or fall on the number of professors, but instead, on the knowledge produced in each field and the quality of education provided to students. Those are appropriately the only true goals for universities. And the appropriate answer for

Germany

is… less students. Many German profs will voice this opinion in private. Cutting out the bottom third in virtually every program at virtually every faculty might be a good start. Encourage these people to pursue something else - possibly another type of degree - in which they have a chance themselves at becoming ‘internationally competitive’, instead of becoming unemployable highly-qualified but poorly-equipped 30 year-olds.

From an international standpoint, the world envies

Germany

its comprehensive apprenticeship and technical training programs, to which vastly more students should be funneled. The world no longer envies Germany its universities, so often clogged with large numbers of people who one would suspect probably shouldn’t be admitted there in the first place, or who after five semesters of virtually free study with nothing to show, have ended up proving this.

- 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"

Nonsense. The ideal professor is a brilliant researcher, bringing home accolades and prestige to her faculty and conducting innovative timely scholarship that provides a significant contribution to human knowledge. The ideal professor is also someone who is a gifted teacher, able to impart a love of learning to his students, committed to equipping them with the best education available and who is able to identify, foster and mentor the next generation of academic leaders.

For the twin goals of any university – research and teaching – there is lots of room for both of these professors. Indeed, these twin expectations increasingly end up being mutually exclusive. That Janus-faced ‘international competitiveness’ thing rears its ugly head here again. Rarely can the professor who is truly dedicated to excellent teaching also perform innovative genetics research, participate as a member of think-tanks or corporate boards, or oversee an entire institute. Rarely can the professor who does any of these three things also provide the quality of teaching required by a top-flight university. Demanding both today is a recipe for ensuring neither. Provided the ‘teaching professor’ keeps current on recent developments in his field, there is nothing that precludes him from being as valuable to any faculty as the secluded researcher in a lab.

The ‘creation of additional professorships’ may serve to swell the ranks of the DHV; it does not ensure that truly excellent teaching or quality research takes place. If that is the goal, maybe fewer professors – or more stringent requirements upon these – are needed.

And – the notion that only proper professors make a worthwhile contribution to universities is absurd. Kempen does a disgraceful disservice to the some of the finest assets of many German faculties - the professionals who serve as guest lecturers, Privatdozenten, outside tutors or expert adjunct faculty members. Any faculty depends on these people to advance students’ understanding beyond the purely theoretical and to provide students with insight into the application of abstract principles.

- 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"

That’s an incredibly cheap shot at the professors whose outstanding teaching attracts students in the first place. I think that sentiment would be shared even by pure ‘research’ professors who depend on bright students to assist them with precisely such research. Back to that ‘international competitiveness’ issue: one field where

Germany

has trouble is in the quality of the teaching itself. This isn’t just due to the proportion of profs to students; it is due to the number of professors who have zero incentive to provide students with a quality education. If the DHV would also seriously turn its attention to weeding out its members who consistently perform sub-par, I might grant them some credibility here.

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

How about this: Without turning quality teaching and/or quality research into a crucial aspect of remaining a paid employee of the university, an improvement in quality won’t be very likely. The financial incentive is called keeping one’s job.

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"

Huber might be right. In order to fill out that statement: if you told the US prof that he would also have to spend 15 hours a week on administrative crap that a paid staff in the US would normally take care of, and that he is also obliged to obtain approvals for the most meaningless of initiatives and procedures from a dozen surly civil servants in three non-communicative university administration institutions in order to push through a project, obtain independent funding or host a conference, he wouldn’t even bother applying to come here.

And if you insinuated to a

US

professor worth inviting here that he might simply ‘read’, meaning, speak from his notes without being able to diverge from these or address current issues, or respond to questions, he wouldn’t be interested at all in coming here.

The problem is the one-size-fits-all mentality at German universities which the DHV seems ready to defend with its life, provided it prescribes the size. There is nothing wrong with asking a young professor to teach nine hours per week, especially if she is proving herself, is good at it, and doesn’t need the time to devote to working with six other interdisciplinary groups to draft a new Charter for the UN. Most young professors would be happy to cut their teeth doing precisely this work, and frankly, many of them need that experience.

On the other hand: Joschka Fischer was recently a guest lecturer at

Princeton

. This simple example belies virtually everything Kempen argues.

Princeton

is easily internationally competitive. Fischer certainly didn’t teach nine hours a week; I’m sure he also wasn’t burdened with onerous and time-consuming administrative crap; I’m certain he was paid well above what the normal prof receives per hour, and he has no university degree granted to him whatsoever that isn’t honorary. And his poli-sci and international relations students benefited from hearing the approach of someone who – like him or not – had a significant say in German and European affairs in this decade.

German professors have a great deal at stake in participating in the needed and inevitable reform of German universities. It would appear that they are presently poorly-represented.

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