Minister of Education Bettina Stark-Watzinger separates herself from State Secretary Sabine Döring

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Written By Maya Cantina

Berlin. There are personnel consequences at the Federal Ministry of Education after criticism over the handling of an open letter about pro-Palestinian university protests. State Secretary Sabine Döring will temporarily retire, Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger announced late on Sunday evening. She asked Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) about this. The background is an internal review order into possible funding implications for university teachers who criticized the evacuation of a protest camp of pro-Palestinian demonstrators at a university in Berlin.

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“Academic freedom is a most valuable asset and is rightly protected by the Constitution,” Stark-Watzinger explains. The resulting impression is likely to ‘lastingly damage’ the confidence of scientists and scholars in the Federal Ministry of Education. The department head emphasized: “Science funding is based on scientific criteria, not on political ideology.”

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Stark-Watzinger had sharply criticized the letter published in May: “Instead of taking a clear stand against hatred of Israel and Jews, university occupiers are victimized and violence is trivialized,” she told the newspaper at the time. newspaper “Bild”. Recently, the ARD magazine ‘Panorama’ reported, citing internal emails, that the Ministry of Education had been asked to investigate to what extent the statements in the letter were criminally relevant and whether the ministry could withdraw funding as a result. That caused criticism.

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Stark-Watzinger now explained that on June 11, an email from the specialist level of her ministry on this subject was “brought to her attention”. She ensured that the matter was handled thoroughly and transparently. “What is certain is that an investigation into the possible financing consequences has indeed been requested from the responsible specialist departments.”

“Statements that fall under freedom of expression”

State Secretary Döring, responsible for the university department, initiated the inspection order. “She also stated that she had apparently expressed herself in a misleading manner when ordering the judicial review. Nevertheless, the impression was given that the investigation into the consequences for funding was considered on the basis of an open letter in the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), which is protected by freedom of expression.” principles of academic freedom. “There are no assessments of the funding implications of statements that fall under freedom of expression.”

Döring explained last week that the House leadership had made it clear “very soon after the control order was issued” that aspects of the financing legislation should not be part of the legal review. This showed that the contents of the letter fell under freedom of expression.

Minister of Education Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP)

Minister of Education Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP)

In a “Declaration by Lecturers at Berlin Universities” in May, more than a hundred lecturers from several Berlin universities criticized the evacuation of a protest camp of pro-Palestinian demonstrators at the Free University of Berlin. “Regardless of whether we agree with the specific demands of the protest camp, we stand with our students and defend their right to peaceful protest, which includes the occupation of university grounds,” they wrote. And further: “We call on Berlin university management to refrain from police operations against their own students and from further criminal prosecution.”

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Minister “still stunned” by the teacher’s letter

Even then, Stark-Watzinger reacted to the letter from supporters with horror. “It still amazes me to this day how unilaterally Hamas terror was ignored in this letter,” she said. “And how there was a general demand not to prosecute crimes on universities, while at the same time anti-Semitic incitement and violent attacks against fellow Jewish citizens could be observed.”

But in view of the open letter, she also emphasizes: “This is a legitimate part of the debate and freedom of expression. It is equally natural to contrast this with another opinion.”

The spokesperson for education and research policy of the CDU/CSU faction, Thomas Jarzombek, called on the head of department to resign. “Federal Minister Stark-Watzinger is right: a new beginning in the field of personnel at the BMBF is necessary. She now has to take this step herself,” he explained. “It was her statement that the teachers’ letter was not based on the Basic Law.” In doing so, she gave direction to the ministry. “The fact that she doesn’t say a word about this speaks volumes about what is really going on.”

RND/dpa

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