Freedom of science

by Rainer Schopf

Five weeks ago, the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” published the verdict of the “Kölner Landgericht” (Cologne Regional Court) in the case of the historian Jörg Baberowski against the “Allgemeine Studierendenausschuss” (Asta, General Student Committee) of the Humboldt-University in Berlin (HUB). Baberowski had sued the Asta for dissemination of value judgements about him; he did not want to be called “right-wing” or “racist.” Quotations should not be allowed to be used in a shortened and distorted way1. In five out of six points, the Asta was defeated, especially in the case of false quotations. Jörg Baberowski no longer can be abused as a racist, but he must accept that he “represents right-radical positions” because this assessment falls under the freedom of expression.
The university presidencies in Bremen and Berlin did not come to the defense of the defamed colleague, as their duty of care would have obliged them. In Berlin, his lectures have been disturbed for a long time. Because of the riots in Bremen, where Baberowski was invited to a lecture, the event had to be transferred from the university to the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation because the security of the lecturer was not to be guaranteed.

The creeping poison of defamation

One may or may not agree with Baberowski’s theories, but here an unexpected terror against basic convictions is manifested. And the Republic is silent. It was only after the verdict, when Heike Schmoll in an article “The creeping poison of defamation” denounced the scandalous situation at German universities that some resistance slowly developed. “Many professors know exactly what and how they can say something, they know the constraints of gender neutrality, and they also know which research subjects are opportune and which are rather not.”2 This article brought the Trotskyist student representatives, elected by 197 of the 39,097 students eligible to vote at the Humboldt University, to the scene. On their World Socialist Web Site (wsws), the socialist “Gleichheitspartei” (equality party) accused the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” of responding “to the Baberowski judgment with unrestrained lies.”3 They continue their hate campaign against unpopular professors, but face declining support for their terror.

Commitment to freedom of science …

After all, resistance is spreading on a broad front. Heike Schmoll, too, was not intimidated and continued: “Where is the courage?” she asked the university directors. “If they do not boldly fight for the freedom of science, they cannot expect it from their professors.”4 In more and more articles, commentaries, and readers’ letters to the editor, contemporaries are expressing their views on the importance of the freedom of science. “The aligned professor” is, for Professor Dr Martin Wagener, “a reflection of the educational deficits and democratic deficits of society.”5 After a long period of silence, the leadership of the Humboldt University finally declared their solidarity with their historian Baberowski and came to the professor’s defense against the Trotskyists. Baberowski was an “outstanding scientist, whose integrity is beyond doubt.”6 The members of the scientific advisory board of the “ Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur” (Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship) also defended the historian against unfair professional and personal attacks.7

… an everlasting necessity

Is it necessary to reactivate the Bund Freiheit der Wissenschaft (BFW, association for freedom of science)? Was it dissolved too soon? It was founded in 1970 in an effort to counteract the practiced intolerance of the 68 movement. The BFW defended the freedom to teach and research until 2015. Whether the defense of the freedom of science is fulfilled is “questionable by the recent incidents at the Humboldt University of Berlin and the University of Bremen.”8 As one can see, the freedom of science is an everlasting necessity.
In the years of silence, the Deutsche Hochschulverband (DHV) was a laudable exception. “Science is a domain of autonomous responsibility, which is fundamentally free from heteronomy,”9 the constitutional judge and lecturer of the University of Göttingen, Andreas Paulus, recalled at this year’s assembly of the DHV in Munich. Once again, it was Heike Schmoll, who gave various professors the chance to take a stance against oppression of opinion, cowardice and ingratiation at the universities. Professor Dr Barbara Zehnpfennig asked, “What do we have to lose? When we get involved, nothing. If we allow intellectual terror, no less than the basis of our activity.”10
Good that this debate has arrived in the middle of society. It should be remembered that it was above all a single editor who set them in motion with integrity, tenacity and objectivity. A good example of how an individual can take a stance for the freedom of science.     •

1    “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” from 21.4.2017, p. 9
2    “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” from 27.4.2017, p. 9
4    “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” from 1.4.2017, p. 1
5    “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” from 5.4.2017, p. 6
6    “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” from 1.4.2017, p. 1
7    “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” from 7.4.2017, p. 11
8    “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” from 11.4.2017, p. 6
9    “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” from 12.4.2017, p. 4
10    “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” from 20.4.2017, p. 29