Professors back in charge at W. German universities

The pendulum is swinging back on a decade of West German university reform with surprisingly little public interest in the development. Under new legislation professors will again have the decisive voice in running universities after a ten-year experiment in sharing decisions with junior staff and students. University links with industry are once more being encouraged, in line with the center-right government's desire to stimulate technological innovation.

All this is a far cry from the reform of 1976 that followed student turmoil in 1968. The then center-left government, broke up the 19th-century-style personal power of professors and introduced to campuses the principle of industrial democracy. The ``codetermination'' of labor with management, compulsory in large firms here, was applied to universities as well, with governing committees forced to share representation more evenly between professors, junior staff, and students.

The 1976 reform also envisaged democratization: general access to higher education; shielding universities from commercial pressures. The proportion of young people getting a higher education did in fact triple in the 1970s, and this expansion remains in force.

Industry funds (and, implicitly, stipulations about their use) are again being welcomed in universities as concern has grown here about technological sluggishness.

The Bundestag chamber was practically empty for the debate that preceded passage of the new university law Sept. 26. The day after, the news was relegated to inside pages. This indifference contrasts sharply with the hot arguments about education policy in the 1970s.

Since education falls within the competence of states rather than the federal government, the Bundestag's framework legislation must further be implemented by state legislation for West Germany's more than 200 institutions of higher education.

In supporting the new law in the Bundestag, Christian Democratic Education Minister Dorothee Wilms stressed the ``principle of differentiation'' and the importance of giving as much opportunity as possible to gifted students.

But Social Democrats and Greens (an environmentalist party) objected to such favoring of elites over the average student. A Social Democratic spokesman accused the government of ``turning universities into uncritical agents of the Germany economy by reinstituting'' predemocratic power structures and hierarchies'' at the university.

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