Read, James M.
Present status of universities, pp. 25-26 PDF (1.3 MB)
Present Status of Universities By DR. JAMES M. READ Chief, Education and Cultural Relations Division, HICOG THE QUESTION RAISED by the title of my remarks is a broad one and in the short time which I have available I can only discuss some of its major aspects. At the very outset I would like to say that I do not speak only as an American official. Having studied six se- mesters at German universities, having enjoyed my student days as none other, having formed at that time many last- ing friendships, I think I can lay claim to being a real friend and well-wisher of the German university. And so I return to the question: What is the real status of Ger- man higher education at the present time? I am sorry to say that the picture is not at all bright. I will not speak of some of the most obvious difficulties of the universities, especially the intolerably large ratio of students to professors. Adequate teaching in "semin- ars" of one to 200 students is a manifest absurdity. Nor will I speak of the need for new buildings and libraries and classrooms and scientific apparatus, many of which, destroyed in the war, are still not replaced. These are defects which are well recognized. All that is needed to remedy them is the mobilization of public opinion. I prefer to speak of more basic problems, problems which are all the moire difficult to solve because their basis is n!ot material; money alone will not solve them. I refer to three basic failings in the contemporary aca- demic scene in Germany: (1) The conservative attitude of the faculties; (2) the lack of contact with the public; and (3) the absence of general education. T HE TRUTH OF THE MATTER is that the German uni- versity, after rising to world pre-eminence in the 19th century, received setbacks in the 20th century from which it hias not yet recovered. The story of what happened in the Nazi times is well known. The life-breath of intellectual effort, freedom, was taken from higher learning in Germany; the result was the spiritual impover- ishment of Germany and the corresponding enrichment of other countries, as academic refugees found asylum in them. My country was one of the chief beneficiaries. Hence comes the following situation: whereas in my youth every American physician yearned to be able to point to a year of graduate study in Vienna or Berlin, such a thought would today not enter the young physi- cian's head. And that is not just because of a lack of room and apparatus in those universities today. But Hitler was not the only reason for the present state of higher learning This address in Germany. Even before him a decline German univer! had set in due largely to the fact that by Dr. Read o the universities took little notice of on May 7, 1951.' what was going on around them, but JUNE 1951 on the sity S over E He sp remained instead so attached to the traditions of the past that the stream of time began to leave them behind. The easiest road to follow is obviously the old one; but this does not solve our present cultural problems. I am not saying that universities should become instru- ments of the state; they should preserve their indepen- dence and academic freedom. But I am deploring the fact that there is so little attempt on the part of the universi- ties to apply their methods and organized knowledge to the solution of the most pressing political and social problems of our times. Why are there so few committees at work binding the universities together and asking themselves, their col- leagues, their students, and the public what their role in modern society should be? Why are there not within the universities working groups applying themselves to the problems of the ob- jectives and purpose of a modern unversity, the respon- sibility of the university for the guidance of students, the problem of the relation of the university to the public? No doubt the faculty is overworked, and can find little time for such self-examination. If professors protest that under present conditions of an overloaded program, they cannot afford to spend time on these problems, I can only reply that they cannot afford not to spend the time. What business or social agency, to say nothing of a research or educational institution, can fulfill its task as long as it fails to take internal inventory? THIS LEADS TO MY SECOND general criticism, that there is not enough contact between public and university. It may be recalled that three years ago the university scene was surveyed by an Anglo-German Kommission von Professoren, Angehoerigen der Gewerk- schaften, Genossenschaften, Kirchen und der Verwaltung.* The result of their labors was the Gutachten zur Hoch- schulreform (report on University Reform). This document was full of new ideas and proposals for an improvement of the whole university system, formulated in 95 recom- mendations. If you ask today what has happened to the Gutachten the answer is usually that it has gone to sleep, or else that it has died. In academic circles one finds a kind of conspiracy of silence on the subject, almost as if the matter were not quite a fit subject for conversation. I can raise the question all the more properly because I cannot be accused of pressing an American proposal for reform. The commission contained no Ameri- e contemporary cans; we had nothing to do with it. -cene was given If however the foreign influence is Radio Stuttgart considered to have been too strong ioke in German. * Commission of professors, trade unions, associations, churches and administrations. INFORMATION BULLETIN 25
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