Johannes F. Lehmann on closed universities

Dhe university is a place of encounter and gathering of people who study and teach in many different subjects and disciplines. The purpose of the university as an educational institution is realized in physical presence, as a common living space and as the center of a decisive phase of life for young people. If you look at the self-portrayals of universities with which students are advertised, then it is precisely what can be seen in pictures in bright colors: the campus as a living space. Because in fact, in addition to lecture halls, seminar rooms and laboratories, there are workplaces in libraries, there are cafeterias and refectories, sports facilities, lounges and inner courtyards, meadows under trees and all kinds of meeting places where students (and teachers) meet outside of the course .

If one understands education, as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Article 26, not only as the transmission of information, but also as “the full development of the human personality”, then it becomes clear that a closed university cannot fulfill its educational mandate. The purpose of the university as an educational institution, in addition to the acquisition of knowledge, is the development of social relationships, the critical, self-organized discussion of the content of the course (and beyond), the formation of networks and the broadest possible real encounter and discussion with other people of other origins and with Dissenters at all. Education, according to the Declaration of Human Rights, should be aimed at “strengthening respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It must contribute to understanding, tolerance and friendship between all nations and all racial or religious groups. ”Closed universities deprive students of the human right to education, and they destroy opportunities and development opportunities for diversity. Anyone who, like Lower Saxony’s Education Minister Björn Thümler, dreams of digitizing universities so fully in the future that students no longer have to live at the university, dreams of their destruction.


Johannes F. Lehmann is Professor of Literature and Cultural Studies at the University of Bonn.
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It is not a question of whether digital teaching is possibly less effective or even more effective than teaching in person, it is about the fact that courses only constitute a part of university education, but that which constitutes the university as a common space. However well the teaching is transferred digitally, all aspects of the encounter, the communicative trappings, the critical discussion of what has been learned before and after the course, the chance contacts, etc. are omitted without replacement. The dispute between classroom and digital teaching is a pseudo-dispute; it misses the point of the university as an institution – in terms of the effectiveness of content communication alone. Because this is essentially based on the independent communalization of the students, in the social forms of joint acquisition and self-organized, critical processing of knowledge – and that’s why it is of decisive importance that the teaching is provided at the jointly shared location, at the university.

This divided space has now been closed for three semesters, with sometimes devastating consequences for the students zooming in isolated from each other, who are deprived of opportunities for development, development and contact on a daily basis. If one deprives them of their right to education by closing the university, one needs very good reasons, because human rights apply unconditionally. At the moment when everyone who wants to can protect themselves through vaccination, all measures must be dropped, the risk of infection must be returned by the state to the individual, the basic right to education must apply again unconditionally. Under this condition, the coming winter semester has to be a normal semester with a campus presence again, because it is not the task of the university to prevent infections of those who decide not to have a vaccination, but to fully enable education.

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