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CAUT Bulletin Archives

April 1998

Under Fire in Bavaria

Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Deutsche Kommunistische Partei?" If your desire is to participate in the Canadian Studies Visiting Professors Program at the University of Augsburg in the German state of Bavaria, you must answer this question and the answer must be "no." Patricia Marchak, a professor in the sociology department at the University of British Columbia, learned this lesson the hard way.

In May of 1997, professor Marchak was set to commence a three-month teaching stint with the program. One week after her arrival in Germany, she was instructed by the university's administration to sign a declaration stating that she was not a member of the Deutsche Kommunistische Partei nor of 47 other political and religious organizations. The list of proscribed groups included those on both the left and right of the political spectrum, as well as the Church of Scientology.

According to the director of the program, Dr. Rainer-Olaf Schultze, her signature on the document was a condition of employment required by the state government. Prior to her arrival in Germany, the university had given professor Marchak no warning that it would make this demand.

Although professor Marchak did not belong to any of the named organizations, she refused to sign. As a result, she was forced to leave the program and return to Canada, out of pocket $3,200 in travel and other expenses. In her words, "the situation reminds one of the McCarthy era in the United States. The requirement to sign the declaration violates basic human rights. It is also contrary to the principles of academic freedom as recognized in all democratic countries."

Upon her return to Canada, professor Marchak raised the matter with the International Academic Relations Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs, which provides funding to the program. While she acknowledged to the department that the Canadian government could not interfere with the academic affairs of a foreign university, it could reasonably insist that all conditions of employment be made known to prospective instructors before they accepted positions. The department said it fully agreed and that it would make that point to the university.

At the same time professor Marchak also took her story to CAUT's Academic Freedom & Tenure Committee. Alarmed by the concerns she raised, the committee wrote to Reinhard Blum, Rector of the University of Augsburg, and requested an explanation.

On behalf of the university, Dr. Schultze acknowledged that all teaching staff were required to sign the declaration. He also stated that this requirement did not infringe academic freedom in any respect and that in the 12 years of hosting the visiting professors program, this was the first complaint that had ever been received.

Notwithstanding the legality of many of the organizations in question, Dr. Schultze justified the law by noting that the proscribed groups encompass those "which are said to aim at overthrowing the foundations of a liberal state." Moreover, he indicated that professor Marchak turned down an offer that would have allowed her to avoid signing the declaration. The offer, according to Dr. Schultze, was that she would simply present a series of lectures without being duly appointed at the university.

Professor Marchak denies that any such proposal was made to her. She indicates that the university initially did not respond to her concerns, other than to demand that she sign the declaration. It was only late in the evening on the day before the course was set to commence that the university mentioned the possibility of considering alternative arrangements. Even this vague suggestion came with the proviso that negotiations for any such arrangements "would take a long time," and no actual proposal was ever made.

Without a formal undertaking from the university that she would not have to sign the declaration, professor Marchak was unwilling to begin classes for fear of placing students in jeopardy should she fail to reach an agreement and have to withdraw in midterm. It was in these circumstances that she left the program.

The Academic Freedom & Tenure Committee is now considering its next move. Professor Patrick O'Neill, chairperson of the committee, acknowledges that as a Canadian university is not directly involved, CAUT's usual options, including the ultimate sanction of censure, are not available. Nonetheless, he indicated that by alerting academics to the situation, he hoped the resulting publicity would bring pressure to bear upon the University of Augsburg and the State Government of Bavaria and, at the very least, make Canadian academics aware of the situation at the university before they became involved with the program.

The committee is also concerned about the propriety of the Canadian Government subsidizing a program at a university which violates the basic principles of academic freedom. Professor O'Neill indicates that his committee has addressed that issue with the Department of Foreign Affairs and is currently awaiting a response.

This month's feature on academic freedom was provided by Paul Jones of CAUT. Members of the Canadian academic community who are concerned about this situation can direct their questions and comments to: Professor Reinhard Blum, Rector, University of Augsburg, D-86135 Augsburg, Germany; Brian Long, Director, International Academic Relations Division, Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade, 125 Sussex Drive, Ottawa ON K1A 0G2.