Max Planck to Shutter Institutes?

BERLIN--German scientists are reeling at news that the prestigious Max Planck Society may close four of its research institutes in western Germany under a cost-cutting plan announced yesterday by the society's president, Hubert Markl.

The closure plan must still be approved by Max Planck's governing board. It comes in response to a demand by the government, which provides about half of the society's budget, that the society reduce its personnel costs in western Germany by 11% over the next 4 years. That would require eliminating about 740 positions.

Under Markl's proposal, Max Planck eventually would close at least four research centers: the Institute for Biology in Tübingen; the Institute for Aeronomy in Lindau; the Institute for Behavioral Physiology in Seewiesen, near Munich; and the Institute for History in Göttingen. Max Planck officials said those institutes were singled out because their directors were nearing retirement, not because of any problem with their scientific performance.

The society is trimming costs in the west so it can open more research centers in eastern Germany, now home to 15 of Max Planck's 70 institutes. Originally, the government was requiring only a 420-position staff cut, a goal Max Planck was to fulfill by making across-the-board personnel reductions. But it was forced to consider closing institutes after the government decreed this month that the society should cut an additional 5% of its personnel costs. A final vote on the proposed closures is expected in the spring.