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In Dispute in Germany, Students See Attack on Social Sciences

May 26, 2016
 

An open letter that calls for extending the contract of an expert on extremism and anti-Semitism at Germany’s University of Göttingen has received international attention.

The open letter published by the Fachschaftsrat Sozialwissenschaften, the social sciences student council, describes Samuel Salzborn as “the backbone of the bachelor degree program” in social sciences and describes the administration's decision not to renew his contract as “the latest in a string of bad decisions at the expense of the faculty of social sciences.” A social sciences faculty body had voted unanimously in favor of a contract extension.

“We fail to identify a proper reason for the nonrenewal because Salzborn himself is very successful at publishing nationally and internationally on his specific subjects of anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism, he’s very popular among his students, and, as you would have seen from the great support that he has enjoyed since we published this open letter, he’s very respected among his peers,” said Clemens Boehncke, a graduate student in political science and a spokesman for the social sciences student council. Absent a clear reason, Boehncke said, student representatives have been left to speculate on possible political motivations for the nonrenewal and to see it as an attack on the social sciences.

Salzborn declined to comment. In a statement the university said he holds a temporary chair that is not eligible for tenure or extension -- a claim rejected by Salzborn's student supporters, who point to a state higher education law that allows for the extension of temporary professorships in certain cases for up to five years (the university cites the same law in its explanation for why the chair is not eligible for renewal).  

“The chair Fundamentals in Social Sciences, which Mr. Salzborn currently holds, is a temporary chair (without an option for tenure or extension),” the university said. “These temporary positions are by default open only for a certain period of time, after which they are either terminated or advertised anew. In the case of this chair, which plays an essential role in the teaching at the faculty of social sciences, the university is going to advertise a new position with the same thematic orientation.”

This article has been updated to incorporate the social sciences student council's response to the university statement. 

 
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