Students have to practice the discourse, demands the university rector Anja Steinbeck.


December 9, 2019, 1:49 pmEnterpreted on December 9, 2019, 1:49 pmTIME # 51/2019

The German universities are in a dilemma. On the one hand, they must be politically neutral as state institutions. On the other hand, they should not withdraw into their ivory tower, but take on social responsibility; they should participate in preserving and developing the social and democratic constitutional state. How does it fit together?

Anja Steinbeck, Rector of the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf © Heinrich Heine University

The requirement of political neutrality does not mean that universities need to be free from politics. Not at all one can derive from this a ban on performing for politicians or for teachers with extreme political positions. The neutrality requirement requires universities and their teachers only that they do not influence students unilaterally; they must controversially pose and discuss controversial issues. If a teacher wants to pick up on a topical topic in his seminar and invite politicians to do so, then he has to provide particular discourse within the event. He should either invite further party representatives or at least give the format as neutral a character as possible by means of critical questions and statements that consider the entire party spectrum.

The principle of neutrality also applies if a university group wants to use a room of the university for an event with a politician. Again, all political parties are to be treated equally, as long as the Federal Constitutional Court has not classified a party as unconstitutional. Each university can decide for itself whether it tolerates politicians in their rooms only for scientific events or whether it tolerates purely political events. The important thing is: A rule must be consistent for all parties.

I am convinced that political discussions have to be conducted at a university. If students are to develop into politically minded citizens in the course of their studies, then they must practice the political discourse. You also have to controversy over controversial issues.

However, the taxpayer finances only the legal task of the university: to gain scientific knowledge and to educate students. Political promotional events are therefore not on campus. Since political discussions and election campaigns in individual cases are often difficult to differentiate (and even the most attentive university management does not always recognize in advance what is what), I am in favor of the fact that there are no more political events at the universities six weeks before a vote.

When is it justified to ban an event? Then, when there is a risk that their content runs counter to our liberal-democratic constitution. However, this must not be inferred solely from the political orientation of the university group or the invited politician. Rather, it requires concrete evidence - for example, from the advertising for the event or from the comments of the invited in advance.

And, of course, the university management must also consider whether an event poses risks to the safety of the participants or uninvolved third parties, for example because there are demonstrations. Threats in social networks can point to an increased risk situation, even threats that a university can not control. If the consultation with the police reveals that an event can only be secured at unreasonably high costs, the university management must prohibit the event on campus or, if the event escalates, cancel it. If this happens, the realization of freedom of expression encounters limits. However, the university management must then particularly vigorously defend this fundamental right with words.