Jürgen Moltmann and Higher Education

I’ll be speaking at the Lindenwood University undergraduate commencement exercises tomorrow morning, and this has had me reflecting on this whole higher education business in a more concentrated way than my usual slow burn of reflection on the issue. For instance, have you ever reflected on how even calling this enterprise “higher education” prejudices how we think about it in interesting and definitely-not-merely-neutral ways? That was a relatively new realization for me.

In any case, Moltmann has some interesting things to say about living through the Americanization of the German university system. Or, perhaps better, the first round of this Americanization. My understanding is that it continued and continues even today. So I offer his comments below for your reflection (bold is mine, as usual) while I put the finishing touches on this speech…

Jürgen Moltmann, A Broad Place (Fortress, 2009), 242.

During those years it was not the left-wing students who wanted to change the system; it was the bureaucrats in the ministry of education. They tormented the universities and faculties with continually new regulations which they termed ‘reforms’. Every new dean in our faculty had to revise all the examination regulations yet again. With a total lack of imagination, the ministers of education were bent solely on an Americanization of the ancient German university, their aim being to satisfy the short-term interests of industry. So they turned students from academic citizens into attenders of vocational schools and made the university faculties into technical colleges. ‘Freedom of research and teaching’ was restricted through ‘courses of study’. At that time universities throughout the country were forced to build up bureaucracies for themselves in order to counter the ministry of education and to defend their liberty, and we spent endless time and energy, and frittered away a great deal of public money, in meeting about the senseless regulations imposed on us. We could have worked better with the students if we had not been prevented by the ministry. During the whole of my time at the university, I did not encounter a single reasonable suggestion from that quarter that was worth considering from an academic standpoint. But the gentlemen were themselves not notably well qualified personally in their own academic fields.

We in the US may not be under pressure so much from a centralized ministry of education, but there are the accrediting bodies, and we're all trying to negotiate the "short-term interests of industry."

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