Network for Academic Freedom criticizes Publishers C. H. Beck for ending its collaboration with Hans-Georg Maaßen
Press release, 19 January 2023
The Network for Academic Freedom disapproves of the decision of Publishers C. H. Beck to terminate the cooperation with Hans-Georg Maaßen, once again bending the knee in the face of a campaign directed against the publisher.
One can have very different opinions on Maaßen’s statements, one can of course criticize them as polemical and absurd and reject them. The only thing, however, that should play a role in assessing his contributions to the books of Publishers C. H. Beck (commentaries on the Basic Law, the constitution for the Federal Republic of Germany) is their professional quality. Current statements by Mr Maaßen should only be relevant if they are anti-constitutional. This is not the case. The commentaries themselves never played a role in the discussion and are not objectionable as such. The suspicion arises that people who hold politically disapproved views are to be expelled from the academic community, which is all the more incomprehensible as there is no shortage of commentaries on the Basic Law; anyone who does not wish to take note of a commentary can refer to other commentaries. Now that the publisher has once again capitulated in the face of a well-organized and media-orchestrated campaign (although in summer, they had seemed to hold out) there is concern among academics that in the future, the publisher will consent to being governed by activist-dictated conditions when selecting its commentators. Future developments in this context will be closely monitored by academics.
The Network sees it as a threat to academic freedom when the most important legal publisher succumbs in the face of public pressure to terminate collaboration with certain authors and calls on the publisher to withstand future campaigns.
Network for Academic Freedom on the expansion of paragraph 130 of the Penal Code (Strafgesetzbuch, StGB)
Press release, 5 December 2022
We consider the extension of § 130 StGB (approval, denial, gross trivialization of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes which incite hatred or violence or disturb public peace) to be legally problematic. We also fear negative consequences for academic freedom if magistrates are required to decide whether any specific case is to be seen as a genocide or war crime. Verdicts passed in this context will have a standardizing and deterrent effect and will significantly impede academic discussion on war crimes and genocides, which is determined by many changing variables and diverging definitions as well as the progress of research. In addition, we resolutely criticize the increasing political and legal encroachment with regard to an open culture of remembrance in a free democratic society, even if this encroachment originates from positive intentions, as was the case recently in the case of the Bundestag (the German parlament’s) resolution on the Holodomor. Complex questions such as whether an historical event is to be characterized as as genocide or class murder should not be decided politically but remain the subject of academic research and discussion.
For the resolution see https://www.bundestag.de/dokumente/textarchiv/2022/kw42-de-bundeszentralregister-915600.
Network for Academic Freedom on the campaign against Prof. Dr. Ebrahim Afsah
Press release, 28 November 2022
The Network for Academic Freedom condemns the campaign against Ebrahim Afsah, professor of Islamic Law at the University of Vienna since 2018, which has now led to his leaving the university. From the beginning, he has been subjected to numerous and regular attacks, including insults and threats. Even before he took up the professorship, lists of signatures against his appointment were kept. The sole reason for this were his controversial positions in his field of research. It would have been the university administration’s duty to defend him against these attacks.
Bullying against critics of political Islamism even in academia is not an isolated issue compared to the situation in other countries around the world but a well-known pattern ranging from disrupting lectures to death threats against academics and their families. It is not only the duty of university administrations to protect these academics but also the task of the academic community as a whole. Unfortunately, the latter in particular often fail to declare their solidarity, indeed, they sometimes even take part in the campaigns. The Network for Academic Freedom calls for a fundamental rethinking in this context and unconditional solidarity with those colleagues who work for freedom and human rights.
Network for Academic Freedom on the campaign against Private Lecturer (Privatdozent, PD) Dr Javier Y. Álvarez-Vázquez
Press release, 3 November 2022
The Network for Academic Freedom condemns the student campaign against Dr Javier Y. Álvarez-Vázquez at the University of Leipzig and welcomes the fact that the university administration has not complied with the students’ demands to cancel the seminar. Students must live with the fact that the recommended literature contains works with which they do not agree. Academic teaching is characterized by confronting students with deviating views and discussing them. The allegations of “transphobia” are defamatory and are not intended to encourage debate but to defame the person. Disrupting a seminar is an unacceptable violation of the freedom of teaching (Art. 5, para. 3 Basic Law).
The university administration is requested to continue to protect the rights of PD Dr Álvarez-Vázquez and to consider taking appropriate action against any cases of bullying against him.
Network for Academic Freedom on the case of Martin Wagener
Press release, 18 July 2022.
The Network for Academic Freedom criticizes the withdrawal of the security clearance at the Federal University for Public Administration (Hochschule des Bundes für Öffentliche Verwaltung), Department of Intelligence Services, from Professor Wagener. Such a withdrawal must never be based on an academic comment. It should be noted that a professor at the Federal University too can fully invoke academic freedom and the freedom of teaching. Therefore, the Federal Intelligence Service (Bundesnachrichtendienst, BND) and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, BfV), whose efforts to combat anti-constitutional tendencies are of course respected, are nevertheless asked to submit comprehensible evidence of anti-constitutional activities performed or corresponding views held by Martin Wagener. If this does not happen, we consider this incident an illegal encroachment on academic freedom and the freedom of teaching.
On this case, see also our detailed statement.
Network for Academic Freedom on the situation at Berlin universities
Press release, 3 July 2022
It is with great concern that we note that academic freedom is being disregarded more and more frequently at colleges and universities in Berlin. Lectures such as that by doctoral student Marie-Luise Vollbrecht (see documentation) are cancelled because of alleged transphobia although the accusation is unjustified. This happens under the pretext of security concerns, whereby fundamental rights are placed at the discretion of violent criminals. Professors are attacked by university authorities trying to ban them from making statements under their affiliation, which are common practice. Councils like the General Student’s Committees (sing. Allgemeiner Studierendenausschuss, AStA, pl. Asten) are openly trying to oust academics for their beliefs and put an end to their careers. Other academics are regularly threatened and insulted. Numerous cases of this kind are listed and documented on our documentation page. These tendencies call into question academic freedom at Berlin colleges and universities—not just in individual cases, but in general. We call on the Senate Administration to fulfil its duty, according to the Basic Law, to protect academic freedom and to prevent such incidents in the future.
Network for Academic Freedom calls on the University of Siegen to ensure protection of events
Press release, 26 April 2022
The University of Siegen expects professors who organize academic events to cover the costs of any necessary security services from their own budget. The Network for Academic Freedom rejects this for fundamental reasons and regards it as a violation of academic freedom. The university is obliged to ensure that the basic right of academic freedom can be exercised, which, among other things, includes organizing academic lectures and conferences. The costs for this cannot be charged to the organizers. This would lead to threats of violence by third parties ultimately deciding who is invited to a lecture or a conference. This danger must be countered decisively. The University of Siegen is therefore asked to revise its decision.
Network for Academic Freedom on the Academic Freedom Index (AFI)
Press release, 7 March 2022
The Network for Academic Freedom welcomes the plan to use the Academic Freedom Index (AFI) to measure academic freedom globally. Update 2022 has just been released.
However, the index does not take into account threats to academic freedom coming from the academic community itself (see here). We have been observing such restrictions from academia itself for a number of years in the USA, Great Britain and France. We try to document these as far as possible for the German-speaking area.
The index is neither intended nor suitable for documenting restrictions on academic freedom in individual disciplines or universities. The index values are easily misinterpreted to mean that such limitations and threats do not exist. Relying solely on external interference can even be misleading as in other countries such as the UK, the government partly interferes with the aim of protecting and defending academic freedom against restrictions by the academic community.
Solidarity with Ukrainian and Russian colleagues
Press release, 28 February 2022
Academic study can only exist under the conditions of freedom. War and authoritarian rule make it impossible. We are currently experiencing both in the middle of Europe. The Russian army’s attack on Ukraine violates international law and is an attack on the universal values that we share with democrats around the world. We express our solidarity with our threatened Ukrainian colleagues and with all people who are risking their lives to oppose the military invasion.
However, the regime that Vladimir Putin built suppresses freedom in the Russian Federation itself, too. Russian academics and academic journalists have now publicly distanced themselves from this policy and shown solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Through its political actions, Russia has isolated itself internationally, they write, thereby preventing academic cooperation with other countries. The Network for Academic Freedom supports the courageous colleagues who oppose Putin in Russia.
We offer our support to Ukrainian and Russian academics to the best of our capacities, especially to our Ukrainian colleagues who have fled to Germany. You can contact us at any time; we will try to support you starting afresh so that you can continue to pursue your academic work as freely as possible.
Network for Academic Freedom accuses State Asten Conference Berlin of violating freedom of opinion and academic freedom
Press release, 11 February 2022
The State Asten Conference (Landes-Asten-Konferenz) Berlin campaigns against academic freedom (see here). It represents an intolerant and ideological point of view, which is not prepared to accept any position except its own and demands professional bans (Berufsverbote). For example, anyone who criticizes the refugee policy of the previous government has, according to its view, lost the right to hold a university position. The same applies to teachers who “fail to show any sensitivity to certain topics”. The conference thus obviously and fundamentally violates the basic values of the Basic Law (Grundgesetz, the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany), in particular freedom of opinion and academic freedom.
Berlin’s universities are called upon to take a clear stand in favour of academic freedom. The University of Hamburg has just composed a Code of Academic Freedom (Kodex Wissenschaftsfreiheit). Such would be needed quite urgently in Berlin.
Network for Academic Freedom welcomes the University of Hamburg’s Code of Academic Freedom
Press release, 4 February 2022
The Network for Academic Freedom welcomes the University of Hamburg’s adoption of the Code of Academic Freedom (Kodex Wissenschaftsfreiheit) and hopes that this will set a precedent; the Network therefore appeals to all universities and colleges to follow the example of the University of Hamburg.
In particular, the emphasis on academic freedom and the defence against attempts to push unpopular views out of academic discourse finds undivided approval on the part of the Network; the same applies to the emphasis on academic freedom and the university’s duty of protection in this regard. Furthermore, we gladly appreciate that the importance of collegial solidarity in the event of bullying and insults is emphasized. However, it will be of central importance that these provisions are consistently enforced using all legal means. We would like to urge all those involved to participate to the best of their abilities.
Network for Academic Freedom on attacks on academics in connection with Corona (death threats against Christian Drosten, “#SterbenmitStreeck“ etc.)
Press release, 21 December 2021
The Network for Academic Freedom generally condemns threats, intimidation and insults directed at academics on account of their expert opinions expressed in public. It goes without saying that this applies regardless of whether they support or criticize government policies. If such statements directed at academics go beyond the scope of permissible criticism, the Network sees them as a threat to academic freedom which must be countered by all legal means.
Network for Academic Freedom on the matter of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution vs Martin Wagener
Press release, 12 November 2021
Even though we distinctly welcome the fact that the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution takes its legal duties towards anti-constitutional efforts seriously (whether they be of a right-wing/left-wing extremist or Islamist nature), the majority of us are rather concerned about the actions taken against Martin Wagener. It is understandable that particular vigilance is required when it comes to security-relevant data. Nevertheless, encroachment upon the freedom of teaching may only be based on anti-constitutional tendencies, not merely on academic criticism of the office as it was recently expressed by Wagener. In view of the high priority given to academic freedom as guaranteed by the Basic Law, we expect careful and comprehensible action on the part of the office.
Network for Academic Freedom condemns campaign against Kathleen Stock
Press release, 3 November 2021
We condemn in the strongest possible terms the smear campaign against philosopher Kathleen Stock that has been going on for years. It goes against any academic’s ethos to take part in defamatory actions such as the “Open Letter Against Transphobia in Philosophy”, which is directed at Stock; this was signed not only by anglophone but also by German university teachers, among them Robin Celikates, Professor at Free University of Berlin (Freie Universität, FU); Jan Baedke, Junior Professor at Ruhr University Bochum (Ruhr-Universität, RUB); Postdocs and doctoral candidates at the FU Berlin and Humboldt-University of Berlin (Humboldt-Universität, HU), RUB, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, LMU), North Rhine-Westphalia Technical University of Aachen (Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule, RWTH) and at the universities of Augsburg, Bielefeld, Erfurt, Hanover, Cologne, Konstanz, Leipzig, Münster, Potsdam and Tübingen.
Such bullying against an individual must under no circumstances be downplayed and justified as prolonging the discourse, as often happens. Students must learn to tolerate and confront divergent positions. Lecturers, in turn, have a responsibility to be role models in this regard. In Germany, as in other countries, colleagues are attacked and defamed in this way. This cancel culture must be resolutely opposed. We feel sorry for Kathleen Stock’s withdrawing and assure her of our full solidarity and support.
Network for Academic Freedom objects to Chinese influence
Press release, 26 October 2021
With much concern, the Network for Academic Freedom has taken note of reports that official Chinese authorities have apparently prevented events at German Confucius Institutes. According to several media reports and a statement from Leibniz University of Hanover, the presentation of a book about the life of Chinese party leader Xi Jinping at the Confucius Institutes in Hanover and Duisburg has been cancelled. In Germany, Confucius Institutes are cultural institutions based at universities that are formally independent.
The Network for Academic Freedom sees this line of action as a massive attack on the free exchange of knowledge and opinions. ‘The World’ (Die Welt, newspaper) editor Stefan Aust and the long-time China correspondent of ‘Star’ (Stern, political magazine), Adrian Geiges, had planned on presenting their new book “Xi Jinping—the most powerful man of the world“ at the Confucius Institutes at Leibniz University in Hanover and the University of Duisburg-Essen via an online reading. Before the agreed date, Tongji University in Shanghai intervened in Hanover and the Chinese Consul General made representations in Duisburg. The result was the cancellation of the online reading. We appreciate the fact that the University of Hanover intends to make recompense for the event on its own.
In recent months, the Network for Academic Freedom has dealt with many cases in which individual colleagues have had their right to participate in academic discourse contested for various reasons. However, the threats to academic freedom are manifold, as the current situation shows. The Network for Academic Freedom opposes restrictions on academic freedom—wherever these may come from.
Network for Academic Freedom demands: No compulsion to use ‘gender-inclusive language’
Press release, 25 June 2021
On a linguistic, psychological and ethical basis, no consensus has yet emerged on how to refer to mixed-sex/ mixed-gender groups of people. (In German, the endings of most nouns referring to a person, such as ‘teacher’, assign them to either the feminine or the masculine grammatical gender, as in Lehrer or Lehrerin.) Commitment to gender equality can indeed be a reason to deviate from traditional usage. On the other hand, many of the innovations currently in use cause stylistic problems, reduce the range of available expressions and violate the rules of German grammar. Therefore, it cannot be up to the academic or university-political institutions to enact regulations in the context of this open question. Like much of the general public, many members of the Network are uneasy about the proliferation of ‘semi-official’ guidelines and handouts that call for the use of internal I, gender star (Lehrer*innen for ‘teachers’), underscore, inserted x, etc. The Network for Academic Freedom advocates that such language, having been declared gender-inclusive, should not be imposed on anyone.
The spokeswoman of the Network, Dr Sandra Kostner, points to the demands stated by the representatives of the women’s officers and equal opportunities officers at universities from February 2021. In this statement, all universities in Germany are advised to introduce the gender star. This is supposedly the only way to ensure free access to university and open career paths. “There are good reasons to take a critical view of the sole dominance of the generic masculine“, says Kostner. “However, there are also many good reasons against all the alternatives proposed so far, including the gender star“. In this situation, restraint is required from university administrations and ministries. This also applies to women’s and equal opportunities officers. It is their important task to take action against concrete discrimination—not to pursue language and social policy.
The Network for Academic Freedom therefore calls on universities, academic administrations and state-supported funding organizations not to issue any binding regulations on the use of specific forms of gender-sensitive language. “Language is a central tool for research and teaching. Anyone who interferes with the freedom to use language interferes with the freedom of research and teaching”, emphasizes Kostner. There should therefore neither be a compulsion nor a ban on “gender-sensitive” forms of language. The Network in its entirety espouses the primacy of the individual over the institution: not corporate identity but the fundamental right of academic freedom related to the individual applies. There are plenty of possible restrictions: the official website of academics, forms in databases, the language in internal university correspondence, in teaching materials and module descriptions. “In this context the Network is aware of cases in which university administrations try to enforce certain forms of ‘gender-inclusive language’ by means of the power of the apparatus“, Kostner criticizes. According to her, there is by no means a unanimous opinion in the Network for Academic Freedom as to whether the use of “gender-sensitive language” is fundamentally desirable or not. Various academics of various backgrounds, generations and political attitudes come together in the Network. “What is crucial, however, is that we jointly oppose developments that threaten to restrict the freedom of research and teaching. Therefore: no compulsion to use “gender-inclusive language“.
Founding of the Network for Academic Freedom
Press release, 3 February 2021
70 academics from German-speaking countries and various academic disciplines have joined together to form the Network for Academic Freedom. Today, they are making their first public appearance, calling for academic freedom.
The academics are concerned about questions, topics and arguments continuously narrowing in academic research. At many universities, a climate has arisen in which dissenting views are marginalized and morally sanctioned. These restrictions on academic freedom often follow an ideological or political agenda. They impede rational and unprejudiced search for knowledge, which is at the heart of academic freedom in the tradition of the Enlightenment. Cancel culture and political correctness have caused the free and controversial debate of marginal opinions to disappear in many places at the universities.
By making this appeal and establishing the Network, the academics wish to defend and strengthen the prerequisites for free research and teaching. They are committed to a culture of debate characterized by factual arguments and mutual respect. Intellectual freedom, curiosity and academic pluralism are essential for this.
Responsible according to press law are
Dr Sandra Kostner; Professor Maria Sibylla Lotter; Professor Ulrike Ackermann; Professor Martin Nettesheim; Professor Andreas Rödder (steering committee)