Final reflection on the solidarity semester — intermediate thoughts

In spring we wrote an open let­ter to the pre­sid­i­um after the pres­i­den­tial procla­ma­tion of the “now more than ever!” Semes­ter. In this, we want­ed to con­vey to the uni­ver­si­ty man­age­ment facets of the real­i­ties of life of stu­dents dur­ing the first restric­tions caused by the pandemic.

In addi­tion, like stu­dent orga­ni­za­tions through­out Ger­many, we advo­cat­ed for a sol­idary approach to the cri­sis. We asked the Pre­sid­i­um to stand up for the stu­dents most affect­ed by the sit­u­a­tion in the rel­e­vant uni­ver­si­ty-pol­i­tics bod­ies in Thuringia and pos­si­bly nationwide.

First and fore­most, for quick help and sup­port for social­ly and eco­nom­i­cal­ly weak­er stu­dents to alle­vi­ate finan­cial hard­ship — with spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tion for inter­na­tion­al stu­dents and their spe­cial legal sit­u­a­tion as non-citizens.

Fur­ther­more, we advo­cat­ed with stu­dents through­out Ger­many for a sus­pen­sion of the reg­u­lar­i­ty of stud­ies in view of the excep­tion­al sit­u­a­tion. So a sus­pen­sion of the count­ing of the sum­mer semes­ter as a nor­mal semes­ter with the spec­i­fied num­ber of study semes­ters and the asso­ci­at­ed con­se­quences such as loss of stu­dent loans and long-term study fees.

In order to under­line these con­cerns in their urgency and to involve stu­dents in these uni­ver­si­ty-pol­i­tics process­es that affect them, we invit­ed them to co-sign the let­ter. 200 stu­dents joined the demands.

We stayed in con­ver­sa­tion with the stu­dent union StuKo and the presidium.

Lec­tur­ers, stu­dents and trade unions from all fed­er­al states spoke up in the pub­lic dis­course. It is also thanks to the great pres­sure on the local lev­el and in social net­works that the Fed­er­al Min­istry final­ly start­ed a finan­cial emer­gency pack­age for stu­dents in a pre­car­i­ous finan­cial situation.

At the Bauhaus Uni­ver­si­ty, a fund was also set up by the Fre­un­deskreis. For both funds, how­ev­er, stu­dents had to pro­vide pre­cise evi­dence of their finan­cial need — a major hur­dle for peo­ple who had exis­ten­tial wor­ries dur­ing these months. At least there were spe­cial offers of help for inter­na­tion­als at our uni­ver­si­ty — we had also drawn atten­tion to the spe­cial sit­u­a­tion of those stu­dents who were unable to return to their coun­tries of ori­gin in this glob­al cri­sis and whose finan­cial and legal sit­u­a­tion was par­tic­u­lar­ly uncertain.

The Coro­na cri­sis has painful­ly exposed glob­al and social inequal­i­ties. It also became appar­ent how con­struct­ed and wo*man-made, how change­able and open our social insti­tu­tions are, and how quick­ly pub­lic life, laws and reg­u­lar­i­ties can be reshaped with the appro­pri­ate will. Espe­cial­ly in the first phase of uncer­tain­ty from March to May 2020, it became clear at dif­fer­ent lev­els which inter­ests and val­ues polit­i­cal and pub­lic, pri­vate and eco­nom­ic insti­tu­tions act­ed on. Many peo­ple also became more aware of what they expect from these insti­tu­tions and what respon­si­bil­i­ty they bear.

The “sol­i­dar­i­ty semes­ter” called for by so many and by us should appeal to the respon­si­bil­i­ty of a uni­ver­si­ty land­scape that we want to under­stand as a pub­lic place, com­mit­ted to free teach­ing and research in uni­ty and artis­tic free­dom, as an open­ly acces­si­ble and non-dis­crim­i­na­to­ry place.

This ide­al form of the uni­ver­si­ties posi­tions itself in con­trast to the “entre­pre­neur­ial” uni­ver­si­ty, inde­pen­dent of eco­nom­ic inter­ests and job mar­ket-relat­ed train­ing of uni­form grad­u­ates. Uni­ver­si­ty pol­i­cy can also be shaped by stu­dent rep­re­sen­ta­tives, or the edu­ca­tion­al strikes in 2009, giv­en the intro­duc­tion of tuition fees, showed that the major­i­ty of stu­dents also have polit­i­cal power.

The entire cat­a­log of demands of the “sol­i­dar­i­ty semes­ter” would have required a strong uni­ver­si­ty pol­i­cy com­mit­ment to a uni­ver­si­ty ide­al beyond the “entre­pre­neur­ial”.

“Sol­i­dar­i­ty” does not mean fol­low­ing the needs of a strong major­i­ty and meet­ing the needs of a weak minor­i­ty with char­i­ty. Sol­i­dar­i­ty means secur­ing the whole, try­ing to com­pen­sate for the dis­ad­van­tages of peo­ple who are in what­ev­er way not equal. Sol­i­dar­i­ty ensures a hur­dle-free right to sup­port with­out expos­ing peo­ple in need. Sol­i­dar­i­ty some­times also means renounc­ing one’s own priv­i­leges in order to enable oth­er peo­ple to par­tic­i­pate equal­ly.[1]

If the demands of the “sol­i­dar­i­ty semes­ter” had been imple­ment­ed, not a sin­gle stu­dent would have suf­fered a dis­ad­van­tage or for­feit­ed priv­i­leges. Had a broad mass of stu­dents shown sol­i­dar­i­ty with the less priv­i­leged stu­dents in spring 2020, the demands might have been implemented.

And last but not least, if sol­i­dar­i­ty, jus­tice and equal­i­ty in access to edu­ca­tion were in the inter­ests of the uni­ver­si­ties and their pre­sidia, the demands would have been heard loud­er in front of the state min­istries and in the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. “Sol­i­dar­i­ty for an open soci­ety” [2] at the Bauhaus Uni­ver­si­ty would then not be just lip service.

As, for exam­ple, the head of the aid orga­ni­za­tion medico Thomas Gebauer says  “Sol­i­dar­i­ty demands social insti­tu­tions that ensure bal­ance and par­tic­i­pa­tion and thus a dig­ni­fied human coex­is­tence. […] Sol­i­dar­i­ty is much more than the feel­ing of inner con­nec­tion. Sol­i­dar­i­ty stands for the oblig­a­tion of every­one to stand up for the whole. ” [3]

In oth­er fed­er­al states and at oth­er uni­ver­si­ties, demands of the sol­i­dar­i­ty semes­ter, for exam­ple not count­ing as a sub­ject semes­ter, have been imple­ment­ed, while the “now more than ever” semes­ter start­ed in Weimar.

Only now do we man­age to draw a line in between. Only in a few years will we all be able to clas­si­fy the long-term effects of the deci­sions made in spring 2020.

Who and how many had to leave the uni­ver­si­ties? In the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, who and how many do not even start study­ing if they can only cope with pre­car­i­ous and inse­cure work­ing con­di­tions and with­out social secu­ri­ty? Who and how many will find them­selves in finan­cial dis­tress in the future due to stu­dent loans tak­en out pri­vate­ly, on banks or by the state as a result of the crisis?

How much will edu­ca­tion and research be worth to pol­i­tics in the next few years? How many cours­es and posi­tions will be can­celed, how many lab­o­ra­to­ries will be closed, how many loca­tions will be endan­gered? What val­ue will art and cul­ture have? How strong­ly will the uni­ver­si­ties posi­tion them­selves as “entre­pre­neur­ial”? How do we want to study and teach, how do we want to live togeth­er as a soci­ety? How do we deal with these open wounds of inequal­i­ty, which we can hard­ly ignore due to the coro­na pandemic?

The nation­wide “Sol­i­dar­i­ty Semes­ter” ini­tia­tive made these ques­tions pub­lic. Stu­dents were made aware of inequal­i­ties among one anoth­er and eco­nom­ic and social inequal­i­ties; and some stu­dents to per­ceive the uni­ver­si­ty as a pub­lic, polit­i­cal space in which to speak out. At the same time, the sit­u­a­tion has revealed that the under­stand­ing of sol­i­dar­i­ty con­cepts at uni­ver­si­ties could be strength­ened in the long term, and that stu­dents should become more aware of their polit­i­cal power.

The con­se­quences of spring 2020 and the fol­low­ing months will only become appar­ent over the next few years. It can be assumed that the inequal­i­ty we per­ceive today more than ever will not go away through inac­tion. As long as all those involved in the uni­ver­si­ty sys­tem do not see them­selves as a sol­idary unit that is ready to stand up for open, free sci­ence, art, research and teach­ing, it is doubt­ful that these ideals can be upheld.

As long as the uni­ver­si­ties do not exem­pli­fy “sol­i­dar­i­ty” as an active con­cept in the edu­ca­tion of their grad­u­ates as an insti­tu­tion and con­vey it in this way, it is also doubt­ful that our and the fol­low­ing gen­er­a­tions are resilient to the eco­nom­ic, finan­cial, health and eco­nom­ic sec­tors be able to face cli­mate crises.