Bonn Freedom of science, democracy, tolerance, responsibility and the challenges of the future were all important subjects during the ceremony for the 200 year-anniversary of Bonn university.
A hint of pathos is allowed after 200 years of university history. The ceremony in the assembly hall of the former German Bundestag provided the right moment: The freedom of science and freedom in general were spoken about, democracy was mentioned and so were tolerance, responsibility and of course the challenges of the future, which have to be faced in today’s free society.
The „WE“ stamp of the Prussian King on the university’s charter was hanging right beside the German eagle. An elegant connection of 200 years of university history in Bonn. The International Choir with 100 singers from 20 nations sang „The Ode to Joy“ by Beethoven. Rector Michael Hoch emphasised the aspiration to confront all powers who threaten freedom: „We are facing these challenges as a university, as part of society, with all necessary insistence and determination, today and in future.“
German Federal President Steinmeier set the tone in his speech. Pure science does not exist: It has requirements and needs conditions. Hs concern was the interconnectedness of democracy, freedom and science. Even after 200 years those matters are still disputed: Expertise would be questioned and fought. And freedom seemed not to be self-explanatory.
On the plus side, Steinmeier counted all the Bonn professors who were debating the democratic constitution in the Paulskirche. Freedom fighters in the ranks of the alumni like Hofmann von Fallersleben, whose song „Die Gedanken sind frei“ („Thoughts are free“) was sung by the university choir, or Carl Schurz. Steinmeier remembered the dark chapters of history too: The withdrawal of the honorary doctorate of Thomas Mann and the forgetfulness of many after the Nazi regime.
No debate should be evaded
Steinmeier took the university up on its promise to defend freedom and democracy. „Democracy is the lynchpin of the freedom of spirit“, he said. Real freedom in science could only be achieved in a democracy, in an open society.
The acamdemic search for the truth requires a decent interaction with each other, expects tolerance. When political correctness was denounced, he could understand it. This form of a debate for him seems to be an expression of sensitivity. University lecturers carry a responsibility for the future of democracy. „The independence of the state is guaranteed, but for the independence of science science itself is responsible" said Steinmeier with a view on funding by third parties.
Rector Michael Hoch remembered the characterising principles of the university over 200 years. The Humboldt ideal of the unity of research and doctrine is as relevant today as when the university was founded. Good professors draw in good students and those in return will be good scientists in the future.
The principle makes students into researchers on they own account and would turn the teaching staff into people who have to grow and learn through the questions of the academic offspring. Fulfilling this ideal is not easy to achieve. Hoch questions the imbalance between teaching staff and students.
University of Excellence
Mathematically one professor in Bonn looks after 80 students. In Oxford the ratio 1:11. Hoch wished forsufficient financing and clearer boundaries for the players in the university business.
Minister Joachim Stamp promised at least a bit more autonomy for the universities, for which he got applauded.
Minister for cultural affairs, Isabel Pfeiffer-Pönsgen described this as the challenge: to „support the university as well as possible“. Despite all the excellence the normal daily business should not be forgotten.
Some of the university’s achievements were rather causally mentioned: The strong international bond with students and teachers from all over the world and with many partners in many countries.Its massive importance for the city of Bonn. Lord mayor Ashok Sridharan emphasised that the Uni Bonn makes the city younger. Bonn is proud of its university. He promised continuous support.
There’ll be opportunities to do that now, as the university wants to become a University of Excellence after the success of the excellence initiative. „We, together for the future“, Michael Hoch summed up the motto. And added that it’s important to use the energy of the anniversary to approach the future.
Original text: Helge Matthiesen
Translation: Mareike Graepel