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Dismissed East German Faculty Members Make up a "Second Academic Culture" (May 15, 2004)

According to a study by the Institute for Higher Education Research (HoF) in Halle, East German academics and researches were the “losers of the Wende [i.e. transformation].” After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the study concluded, members of this group were relegated to a “second academic culture.” In the following piece, journalist Jürgen Amendt describes the findings of this study as well as the efforts of Thomas Flierl (PDS), Berlin Senator for Science, Research, and Culture, to improve the situation of East German academics and create greater East-West equality in the filling of leadership positions in academia.

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The Losers of the “Transformation”
The Failed Integration of East Berlin’s Academics

German unification was accompanied by a radical replacement of elites at the universities in the Eastern part of the republic. At Humboldt University in Berlin, for example, 75% of all professors and 70% of all research assistants were dismissed. Many academics were fired despite the fact that they had proven professional qualifications – this was the conclusion reached by the authors of the study “East Berlin Academia in Unified Berlin: An Analysis of the Consequences of the Transformation,” which was carried out by the Institute for Higher Education Research (HoF) in Halle.

The basic assumption that scholars in the humanities and social sciences were politically suspect had a particularly disadvantageous effect. Natural scientists were generally assumed to possess the necessary professional qualifications, but when it came to social scientists, political distrust appears to have outweighed all other considerations. For that reason alone, the study indicated, proof of scholarly potential played no role whatsoever for this group in the reorganization of personnel that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall. Social scientists thus comprised only a minority of the participants in the Researcher Integration Program [Wissenschaftler-Integrations-Programm or WIP], which aimed to help integrate East German researchers into the academic community of united Germany.

“Second Academic Culture”

The past fifteen years have witnessed the development, especially in the social sciences and humanities, of a kind of “second academic culture” made up mostly by dismissed East German academics. At the moment, there are about twenty associations that fit this description in Berlin. Many operate without any solid funding source. Thomas Flierl (PDS), Senator for Science, Research, and Culture, would like to integrate this “second academic culture” into the established research scene. The largest problem group is the so-called middle generation, that is, scholars who were between thirty and forty-five in 1990. Among other recommendations, the Institute for Higher Education Research (HoF) proposed that the Senate create a job pool for this group.

In presenting the study, the senator for science and research [i.e. Flierl] emphasized that its recommendations would serve as “a litmus test for the coalition agreement,” which demands that the life achievements of GDR citizens be recognized. The future of the Leibniz Society will play a key role here. As the legal successor to the society of scholars of the GDR Academy of Sciences, the Leibniz Society is still struggling for political recognition. In 1992, it lost its funding and its office space, which had been provided by the Berlin Senate. Since then, the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy has functioned as an official institution for scholars. [More recently,] the SPD-PDS Senate made several attempts to grant at least symbolic recognition to the Leibniz Society (which is now composed of scholars from East and West), but these attempts have all failed up to this point. Now the society’s scientific achievements are supposed to be recognized through “financial support” and thus put on an equal footing with “the achievements of other university and non-university social science institutes.” Annual support to the society in the amount of roughly 30,000 Euro is being discussed.

Flierl envisions another solution for scholars who were “removed” from their careers after the fall of the Berlin Wall and German unification, but who are now too old to return to academia. He stressed: “We have to make up for the injustice that occurred, at least symbolically.” He proposed an “official farewell after the fact” for dismissed GDR professors, “preferably in the Red Town Hall.” He said that it is still necessary, of course, to consider the extent to which dismissed academics were involved in the Stasi system. However, he said that he does not want to act as “the academic police.” An event of this sort would have to serve primarily to honor notable scholarly achievements.

The job pool proposed by the higher education researchers cannot be implemented, he said, “for budgetary reasons alone.” And surely there would also be political obstacles to overcome: “Here, it is always necessary to take the smallest steps possible.” The higher education researchers from Saxony-Anhalt see things similarly. Some of the people who were responsible for closing the GDR academies in the early 1990s now regret the “personal injustice.” For example, University of Konstanz philosopher Jürgen Mittelstrass was quoted as saying that “the resource that is intellect was treated with negligence.”

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