24.07.1967

“The University will be a reform university”

On 24 October 1967, the North Rhine-Westphalian State Government decides that “in the development of Bielefeld University (…) the recommendations made by the founding committee for Bielefeld University on 24 July 1967 should form the basis for further planning”. These recommendations emphatically characterise the University as a “reform university”, its establishment intended to help remedy the so-called “Bildungskatastrophe” (“educational catastrophe”) of the post-war period through far-reaching reform initiatives in the areas of organisation, research, study and teaching.

Meeting of the founding committee at the Sparrenburg on 13 June 1966 with representatives of the city and district of Bielefeld. Dr. Joachim Wolfgang von Moltke (Director of Kunsthalle Bielefeld), Professor Dr. Harald Weinrich, unknown, Professor Dr. Helmut Schelsky, Eberhard Freiherr von Medem, Professor Dr. Otto Wegner (Assistant Secretary of Education and Cultural Affairs), Professor Dr. Horst Rollnik, Professor Dr. Werner Conze, Else Zimmermann (District Administrator), Professor Dr. Ernst-Joachim Mestmäcker (from left to right).

Photo: Freie Presse
Source: Stadtarchiv und Landesgeschichtliche Bibliothek Bielefeld

A successful personnel policy

In November 1965, the founding committee and the scientific advisory board were established as the two constitutive bodies for the “university in the area of East-Westphalia”. In contrast to the founding committees of other new universities of the 1960s, Helmut Schelsky’s selection of personnel included younger scientists who were open to reform, rather than already established scholars. These up-and-coming academics would, ideally, be willing to accept a professorship at the university they were planning.

After only a few months, on March 1, 1966, the founding committee presented with the “structural characteristics of the new university in East Westphalia”, the structural and reform concept of an entire – albeit small – university. This concept was unanimously approved as the “constitutional basis” of the University at the “Schwaghof Conference” in March 1967, which paved the way for the subsequent development.

  • During the closed meeting at the Schwaghof in Bad Salzuflen on 9 March 1967. Eberhard Freiherr Von Medem, State Secretary for Education and Culture Professor Dr. Hermann Lübbe, the Lord Mayor of Bielefeld Herbert Hinnendahl, the Bielefeld Transport Director Josef Fuchs and Professor Dr. Helmut Schelsky (from left to right).

    Photo: Ed. Heidmann
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 01884.
  • Lecture by sociologist Professor Dr. Heinz Hartmann at the Schwaghof Conference in Bad Salzuflen on March 9, 1967.

    Photo: Ed. Heidmann
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 01885
  • Meeting of the founding committee of Bielefeld University on October 12, 1968, at Lampe Bank in Bielefeld: University Chancellor Dr. Eberhard Firnhaber (back left), chairman of the founding committee Professor Dr. Ernst Joachim Mestmäcker (centre right), Professor Dr. Harald Weinrich (top of the table).

    Photo: Ed. Heidmann
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 01886
  • Meeting of the founding committee of Bielefeld University on October 12, 1968 at Lampe Bank in Bielefeld.

    Photo: Ed. Heidmann
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 01887
  • The sociologists Professor Dr. Niklas Luhmann and Professor Dr. Franz-Xaver Kaufmann at the joint meeting of the founding committee and the scientific advisory board in the town hall of Bielefeld on 27 January 1969

    Photo: Günter Rudolf
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 01888.
  • Joint meeting of the founding committee and scientific advisory board at Bielefeld Town Hall on January 27, 1969, from left to right: Professor Dr. Helmut Schelsky, Professor Hartmut von Hentig PhD, Professor Horst Rollnik, Professor Dr. Friedrich Hirzebruch and Professor Dr. Karl Peter Grotemeyer

    Photo: Günter Rudolf
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 01907.

Reform University

With the decision of the state government in October 1967, the founding committee, the scientific advisory board and the departmental commissions responsible for the individual subjects began to determine the specific structural features of the University. Innovative institutions such as the Center for Interdisciplinary Research and the Centre for Science and Professional Practice were presented to the public. The principle of defining transversal topical foci for all faculties and research areas was also outlined. Certain catchwords that distilled the concept of reforms planned for the new University in the areas of research and the teaching caused a sensation in German higher education and science. For example, “research as the official duty of professors” and the related concept of an “annual alternation of teaching and researching” or the “structural numerus clausus” (a fixed supervision ratio from one professor to thirty students), were just as sensational as the idea of “increasing the efficiency of education”. It was therefore not surprising that these structural characteristics were hotly debated – against the background of the growing student protest movement and the mass influx of students this was to be expected.

However, it soon became apparent that it would be impossible to implement the bold reform ideas to the letter.

Excerpt from the speech of the North Rhine-Westphalian Minister of Culture and chairman of the founding committee Professor Dr. Paul Mikat on the occasion of the constituent assembly of the founding committee for an East Westphalian university, in Düsseldorf on 11 November 1965.

Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, TDS 1.

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