Freedom of research versus Economy--New Service Regulations for German University Professors


Prof. Dr. jur. Ulrich Battis is a member of the expert commission appointed by the Federal Minister for Research and Education, Edelgard Bulmahn. In this essay he discusses how to improve the legal status of young academics and introduce performance-related salaries for university professors.

"The most important thing is missing," was the response of American professors and university presidents to inquiries from Germany. The most important thing, that is, the competition of universities for students, was missing as a criterion in a questionnaire which a group of German experts developed in the 1980s to measure the quality of universities in international comparison.

Little has changed since that time. Admittedly, beginning this year the universities are allowed to choose, at most, 20% of their students themselves, but all the others are assigned to them by a government agency, as in the past. Only at the very few private universities and the art institutes is this different.

Another issue is the battle over the imposition of tuition fees. This is hardly comprehensible from an American point of view, but it has ended in a political stalemate after years of discussion. The majority of university presidents and the majority of the Länder (German states), governed by Social Democrats and the Green Party, rejected tuition fees as antisocial. Thus, the statutory federation-wide introduction of tuition fees has been stopped for now.

All the same, the scene is not characterized by total immobility. Even under Kohl's old conservative government, the federal law's requirement that university legislation be regulated with fundamental uniformity was done away with. This was especially true for the law on university management and the relationship of the universities to the state. Many universities have used the new scope for budgetary and diverse organizational reforms that are in debted to the new public management. They strengthened the university management, in particular the presidents, as well as the position of the deans or the faculties; introduced a university council staffed with representatives of the economy and society; and introduced global budgets. The goal of the reforms is to push back the influence of the state in every respect; the stronger influence of the economy and society is in part striven towards, in part taken into the bargain. The Länder, which are largely responsible for university legislation, are at present experiencing a wave of new university laws which imitate rather than shape the reforms developed by the universities. The majority of university professors tend to take a skeptical view of all this.

This is especially true of the reform of the personnel regulations at the universities, initiated by the new federal government. On the basis of the recommendations of the university rector's conference (the panel of university presidents), the professors fear massive cuts in pay and a worsening of their status. In preparation for the service regulations reform, the federal government has now charged an expert commission with the task of presenting proposals by April 2000, which must then be jointly realized by the federation and the Länder. This joint character, provided for by the distribution of legislative competence between the federation and the Länder, is the first drastic restriction for an effective reform. No less drastic is the stipulation of the finance minister of the federation and the Länder that the reform must be cost-neutral, even in any transitional phase.

The reform package consists chiefly of three complexes. The first complex is the improvement of the legal status of young academics. The goal is to allow young academics freedom in research and teaching earlier than has been the case. As a standard, at least for the disciplines with large research institutes, assistant professorships or self-equipped qualification professorships with a fixed term of 6 years are being discussed. The details remain to be clarified, including selection procedures, intermediate evaluations, membership status, and continued employment. The equipment must be provided from the existing stock. These are assistant positions, but had previously been entirely or partly assigned to professors. It is controversial whether postdoctoral lecturing qualification should be abolished in all disciplines, or be retained as an option.

The second complex regards the performance-determined pay of the university teachers. Even previously, professors have been able to raise their salary vis-a-vis the regular pay by contract with the state or the university, each time they are appointed by special appointment agreements. In addition, the salaries of all professors, even those who are not offered a chair again, are increased up to a certain upper limit, generally every 2 years, as with all officials and employees of the public service. These age-determined increases are to be abolished. The resources thus made available are to be used for performance-related bonuses. The question of who should evaluate the professors' performance is controversial. In my opinion, the "peer review" should be decisive. They should then be put into action by the university management and the deans. The relationship to the special appointment agreements also remains to be clarified. The lowering of the starting salary and the recalculation of the retirement pension is also controversial.

The third complex regards regulations which are meant to expedite the exchange between academia and the economy, including the personnel employed in state-financed research institutions outside the universities.

Finally, it must be clarified whether the stipulated reforms should be realized with the help of civil service law or general employment law. Many reformers wish to abolish civil service law, which is seen as rigid and inappropriate. However, the vast majority of professors do not wish to lose the essentially lifetime security of civil servant status. They fear that the state and above all the university management will interfere with their freedom of research. Anyone who is familiar with the behavior of the unions, which are fixated on guaranteed stability, will wonder why Germany is making the attempt to achieve more flexibility by introducing collective wage agreements between unions and university management. If the civil servant status is to be retained, its university-related regulations must be made more flexible than they have been in the past.

If, as is to be hoped, the expert commission presents its proposals on time, and if these proposals are put into action by the federation and the Länder, the central questions mentioned at the outset--the selection of students and the imposition of tuition fees--will remain unsolved. Whatever the case, given the increasing international competition for the "best minds," a significant need for reform will remain.

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