A stern comrade reflects

Nieuws | de redactie
2 juli 2008 | Detlev Müller-Böling was Rector of Dortmund-University when we in the Board of HRK discovered his strong commitment to reforming the still old fashioned structures and habits of German Higher Education. In this period, during the nineties of last century, HRK aimed at a new  concept for the development of what had become mass higher education.

Müller-Böling was one of the –not so many- colleagues who fought for a real modernization of HE in order to preserve it’s basic idea: asking questions freely and answer them freely in labs, libraries and lecture rooms, in free discourse not coined by outdated hierarchical structures. This rector  was above all more consistent and more ready to take decisions than those who just went along, if at all. When he was called to head the CHE, a “daughter” of HRK and the Bertelsmann-Foundation, it was a happy day for Higher Education in Germany. This was brought to life largely on the initiative of Reinhard Mohn, who had committed his foundation to a strengthening of the public good.

A happy day since, or better: because, he brought storms with lots of thunder and lightning into public debate. Unrest arose in universities and other HEI’s. And so called social scientists began to publish stupid accusations, like CHE was acting as a puppet of “das Groß-Kapital”. We had thought this kind of pseudo-Marxist defamation had lost it’s legitimacy when such thinking had practically just been put into the waste-basket by the liberation processes of 1989 and after.

But Müller-Böling did not leave the universities alone with their timidity, questions, resentments, fears and uncertainty. With a masterly designed program of counselling, moderating, training he began to assist those who were willing to open their institutions for his entrepreneurial “liberated university” (“Entfesselte Hochschule”).

Has the latter now become reality in Germany? Unfortunately not yet. Only some more than a dozen university leaders have so far been courageous, energetic and prudent enough to successfully push for more self- responsibility of their institutions against still heavily staffed bureaucracies, not only in the state-ministries of education, but above all of finance, who still stick to more than outdated rules of accounting and control of their ‘subordinate offices’ Dienststellen. Leaders who on the other hand also dared to push for professional leadership against those who still believe a large, modern service-enterprise in the field of science and education can be managed responsibly by the palaver- processes of managerial dilettants in a pretended ‘democratic’ corporate, academia from medieval sources.

So Detlev Müller-Böling, who professionalized also rankings into instruments for more transparency of university-performance, may retire now from his CHE-top, but we still need him for some of the major challenges for HE in the future. How do we organize part-time studies -beside the job- on a larger scale? How to organize a better training of young scientists for managerial tasks? How to organize a broader support in the public as well in the still somewhat ivory-tower-subculture of academia? Support we look to for the inevitable concept of a really liberated university. Liberated from money squandering by unnecessary overregulation as well as from endless and time wasting pseudo-democratic academic palavers. Says one of Müller-Böling’s stern comrades.

Klaus Landfried, once upon a time dompteur of HRK

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