German education minister rules out resignation over Gaza protest response

'No reason' to step down as directive on looking into sanctioning of university professors supporting pro-Palestinian students' right to protest was not hers, says Bettina Stark-Watzinger

09:24 - 18/06/2024 Tuesday
File Photo
File Photo

German Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger on Monday dismissed calls for her resignation after more than 2,500 academics urged her to step down over her alleged role in considering sanctions against scholars who supported pro-Palestinian students' right to protest on university campuses.

Asked at a press briefing in Berlin whether she would submit her resignation over the affair, Stark-Watzinger said “I see no reason to do so.”

The minister's statement came in the wake of the weekend firing of a top education ministry official over a botched response to a dispute about academic freedom and the right to protest.

Sabine Doering, who is responsible for universities, was reportedly found to have looked into a plan to sanction, with financial cuts, university professors who spoke against shutting down a pro-Palestinian protest camp at a Berlin university.

“I did not give the relevant order to have the consequences of funding examined, nor did I want to,” said Stark-Watzinger.

German public broadcaster ARD reported last week about emails that showed a legal review had been requested inside the ministry into whether the academics' funding could be cut.

Stark-Watzinger had stated that she had “arranged for the facts of the case to be investigated thoroughly and transparently."

She confirmed that "an examination of potential consequences according to funding law was indeed requested from the relevant departments."

On Sunday, more than 2,500 academics signed a letter demanding that Stark-Watzinger resign over her alleged attempt to penalize university teachers who supported pro-Palestinian students' right to protest.

“Academics in Germany are experiencing an unprecedented attack on their fundamental rights, on the 75th anniversary of the Basic Law,” the scholars said in a statement, underlining that recent actions taken by the ministry make Stark-Watzinger's position as minister untenable.

“The withdrawal of funding ad personam on the basis of political statements made by researchers is contrary to the Basic Law (German Constitution): teaching and research are free. The internal order to examine such political sanctions is a sign of constitutional ignorance and political abuse of power,” the scholars said.

“It illustrates an increasing rift between decision-makers in the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and those who support the academic system through their research and teaching. Through its intimidating effect alone, the minister's actions risk permanently damaging the hard-won right of academic freedom against political and state interference,” they added.

On May 8, more than 300 academics from Berlin universities expressed their support for pro-Palestine protest camps on the campus of the Free University of Berlin and defended the students' right to demonstrate.

"Regardless of whether we agree with the specific demands of the protest camp, we stand up for our students and defend their right to peaceful protest, which also includes the occupation of university grounds," they said.

The academics accused the university's management of subjecting the demonstrators to “police violence.”

#Bettina Stark-Watzinger
#Pro-Palestinian students
#Sabine Doering
1 month ago