Today hard­ly any issu­es are as important as equi­ty. Universities have ack­now­led­ged this and taken up the cau­se. Nevertheless, only a few women hold the pre­si­den­cy of a uni­ver­si­ty. And no East Germans. How is this still pos­si­ble today? 

In all likeli­hood, the next pro­fes­sor for Government and Policy Research — about who­se appoint­ment you can read more in the pre­vious arti­cle — will be white, male and born in the for­mer West German federal sta­tes. He can’t help it, yet this makes him the pro­to­ty­pe of a lec­tu­rer at a German uni­ver­si­ty. Moreover, he thus fits almost per­fect­ly into the image of a uni­ver­si­ty rec­tor or president. 

Johanna Weber, Vice President of the German Rectors’ Conference (source: HRK-Pressestelle) 

According to a stu­dy by the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHE), the average uni­ver­si­ty head is 59 years old, white and 75 per­cent male. Out of 84 German uni­ver­si­ties, 21 are hea­ded by a woman, exp­lains Professor Dr. Johanna Weber. As Vice President of the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK), she is, among other things, respon­si­ble for equi­ty and diver­si­ty and is one of the few women to hold the chair of a uni­ver­si­ty — that of the University of Greifswald. 

“The topic is cru­cial for all fiel­ds of hig­her edu­ca­ti­on,” she says, adding that the level of equa­li­ty, espe­cial­ly in lea­ders­hip posi­ti­ons, lea­ves much to be desi­red. She sees rea­sons for this on ano­t­her level. „Unfortunately, not even a quar­ter of all pro­fes­sor­s­hips are fil­led with women. This means that, by default, the­re are far fewer women than men avail­ab­le for such positions.“ 

The HRK had ack­now­led­ged this pro­blem and poin­ted it out expli­ci­tly at its last General Assembly in November, says Weber. Despite the small pro­por­ti­on of fema­le mem­bers, much has been done in the past years. „Gender equa­li­ty is gene­ral­ly an essen­ti­al aspect of all the issu­es that we deal with in the HRK. More­over, the fema­le pre­si­dents and rec­tors meet regu­lar­ly to exchan­ge views on cur­rent pro­blems and initia­te acti­vi­ties that spe­ci­fi­cal­ly address the­se issu­es. Most recent­ly, this inclu­ded a reso­lu­ti­on on women in lea­ders­hip posi­ti­ons and a paper against sexua­li­sed discri­mi­na­ti­on and sexu­al harass­ment at uni­ver­si­ties,“ sta­tes the Vice President. 

Quotas, on the other hand, are always the last opti­on for her, “not only becau­se they gene­ral­ly feed the sus­pi­ci­on that the best can’t get ahead. The most important rea­son is that the pro­por­ti­on of women among stu­dents alrea­dy varies great­ly depen­ding on the sub­ject. But it does not make sen­se to set eit­her qui­xo­ti­cal­ly high quo­tas or low ones ori­en­ting at sub­jects with the fewest women.” This is why Weber regards the cas­ca­de model as more sui­ta­ble: “The tar­ge­ted women’s ratio is deter­mi­ned by the ratio of the care­er level below. Then, howe­ver, the num­ber of women should real­ly incre­a­se signi­fi­cant­ly,” she explains. 

Lack of female professors as a cause? 
Johanna Mierendorff, Vice Rector for Personnel Development and Structure at MLU (source: Uni Halle / Michael Deutsch)

The rea­sons for this pro­blem must the­re­fo­re be sought else­whe­re. The pro­por­ti­on of women who are stu­dy­ing even tends to exceed that of men. However, loo­king at hig­her rungs of the care­er lad­der, such as doc­to­ra­te or habi­li­ta­ti­on, less and less women can be found. Professor Dr. Johanna Mierendorff exp­lains this phe­no­me­non simi­lar­ly. She is Vice Rector for Personnel Development and Structure at Martin Luther University. But she also points out: “Once women are hol­ding juni­or pro­fes­sor­s­hips or have habi­li­ta­ted, most of them get ten­u­re. So the­re is more of a lack of women app­ly­ing for pro­fes­sor­s­hips. Career dis­rup­ti­on hap­pens at a much ear­lier point.” 

According to Vice Rector Mierendorff, the University of Halle, with appro­xi­mate­ly 25 per­cent of its pro­fes­sor­s­hips being held by women, is in line with the natio­nal average. Only a few insti­tu­ti­ons are far ahead, for examp­le the three Berlin uni­ver­si­ties. Mierendorff asses­ses that this has to do not only with selec­tion by the uni­ver­si­ties, but also with care­er ide­as and self-con­fi­dence of women when app­ly­ing for high level posi­ti­ons. In addi­ti­on, working con­di­ti­ons are demanding. 

That is why the Vice Rector aims to rai­se awa­reness for imple­men­ting accep­ta­ble working con­di­ti­ons in each sphe­re of work. “For examp­le, some facul­ties have com­mit­ted to not hold facul­ty board mee­tings after 4 pm.” Moreover, Mierendorff con­ti­nues, this would affect men and women equal­ly. “Many men now take paren­tal lea­ve as well. Much less than women, of cour­se, but it affects them as well.”

As is so often the case, it all comes down to being able to balan­ce fami­ly and care­er. In addi­ti­on to crea­ting working con­di­ti­ons that make a care­er and an aca­de­mic life pos­si­ble, the­re is ano­t­her essen­ti­al point, she exp­lains. “And that is that espe­cial­ly in the tran­si­ti­on, for examp­le bet­ween stu­dies and doc­to­ra­te, the­re are peop­le who moti­va­te you, and say you can do it. And part­ners who also have your back.“ 

Approaches in Halle 

The University of Halle, like pro­bab­ly most uni­ver­si­ties, is com­mit­ted to equi­ty. And a lot is being done at Martin Luther University, at least that is what the pile of mea­su­res and pro­gram­mes implies. Just like at other uni­ver­si­ties, the­re is an office and offi­cer con­cer­ned with equal oppor­tu­nities. But that is not all. There is also a fami­ly office, a mis­si­on state­ment on equi­ty, a con­cept for the future of equi­ty, the­re is docu­men­ta­ti­on of this con­cept and tar­get agree­ments bet­ween the Ministry of Science and the uni­ver­si­ty, and not to for­get the now 13th women’s pro­mo­ti­on plan, a final report on the imple­men­ta­ti­on of the rese­arch-ori­en­ted equi­ty stan­dards of the German Research Foundation. It’s hard to accu­se the uni­ver­si­ty of inaction. 

Prof. Mierendorff also ela­bo­ra­tes on two pro­gram­mes that are desi­gned to pro­vi­de direct coun­sel­ling and sup­port: “One is our men­to­ring pro­gram­me that is orga­nis­ed as part of our Leipzig-Halle-Jena University Partnership.” Young sci­en­tists are pro­vi­ded with a men­tor with whom they can plan their pro­fes­sio­nal bio­gra­phy and bene­fit from the net­works of expe­ri­en­ced scientists.

There is also a coa­ching pro­gram­me at the MLU, which Mierendorff con­si­ders to be even more use­ful than men­to­ring, as it is even more inten­si­ve. “Coaching is par-ticu­lar­ly used when women are at a point of tran­si­ti­on and have to make care­er decisi­ons. I would say that coa­ching is a neu­tral place for con­sul­ting, sup­port and self-assuran­ce: Can I do that? Do I want that? What are the con­di­ti­ons that exist in the ent­i­re aca­de­mic world — not only here in Halle — which influ­ence whe­ther or not I can or can­not mana­ge such a care­er?” Should the fun­ding via the European Social Fund expi­re one day, this posi­ti­on will in any case be con­ti­nued through bud­ge­t­a­ry resour­ces, says Mierendorff. 

Something is inde­ed hap­pe­ning. In the past ten years, the pro­por­ti­on of fema­le pro­fes­sors has risen from 16 to 25 per­cent. But is that enough in view of the nume­rous mea­su­res taken? With regard to the lar­ge num­ber of fema­le stu­dents, the figu­res should alrea­dy be much hig­her. For Professor Mierendorff, at any rate, it is a pro­mi­sing sign that the uni­ver­si­ty has crea­ted a suc­cess­ful foun­da­ti­on. In addi­ti­on to what she says are far-reaching mea­su­res — men­to­ring, coa­ching, fami­ly office and coun­sel­ling — , she belie­ves the­re has also been an incre­a­sing awa­reness in each field of action, which, howe­ver, still needs to be improved. 

“What has also chan­ged is that in the appoint­ment pro­ce­du­res, it is actual­ly no lon­ger pos­si­ble not to inclu­de women on the appoint­ment lists. There has to be a very strong jus­ti­fi­ca­ti­on for why the best can­di­da­tes are all men. But if that’s the way it is, that’s the way it is, and the­re is no rea­son for doubt as it is a mat­ter of selec­ting the best”, says Johanna Mierendorff.

Alternative Reality
Gesine Foljanty-Jost, ran for rec­tor elec­tion in 2014 and lost by just a nar­row mar­gin (source: private)

The Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg is one of the oldest uni­ver­si­ties in the coun­try. Accordingly, it has had a lar­ge num­ber of rec­tors to this day — male rec­tors, mind you. But one time, things almost tur­ned out dif­fer­ent­ly. In 2014, the for­mer Vice Rector Gesine Foljanty-Jost was nar­row­ly defea­ted by the then acting Rector Udo Sträter. 

She was eager for the chal­len­ge and had recei­ved the most votes in the elec­tion to the aca­de­mic sena­te, which she took as moti­va­ti­on to run, she exp­lains. When asked whe­ther the fact that she was a woman play­ed a role, she ans­wers as fol­lows: „I did not feel discri­mi­na­ted against. But the ques­ti­on of equi­ty is no lon­ger deter­mi­ned just by forms of bla­tant ine­qui­ty. Whether at uni­ver­si­ty or else­whe­re, not only ratio­nal cri­te­ria are rele­vant when choo­sing can­di­da­tes, but irra­tio­nal cri­te­ria as well. The lat­ter are fed by a notio­nal image of a trust­worthy lea­der, be it in poli­tics, busi­ness or sci­ence. And this image is still pre­do­mi­nant­ly male due to a lack of fema­le role models. But things have been chan­ging qui­te a bit. With the incre­a­se in the num­ber of women in lea­ders­hip roles, new fema­le role models are alrea­dy emer­ging which also have an impact on voting beha­viour, too.”

Gesine Foljanty-Jost empha­si­ses that it is essen­ti­al to impro­ve equal oppor­tu­nities, par­ti­cu­lar­ly in the appoint­ment pro­ce­du­res. In her opi­ni­on, one should reopen app­li­ca­ti­on pro­ce­du­res in which no or too few women have applied. 

Looking at the Neighbouring University 
Beate Schücking, Rector of Leipzig University (source: luh­ze – Leipzigs unab­hän­gi­ge Hochschulzeitung / Juliane Siegert )

Lack of equi­ty is a natio­nal pro­blem that can only be sol­ved regio­nal­ly. But no uni­ver­si­ty can break through the glass cei­ling alo­ne. Each has to make their con­tri­bu­ti­on. A look at the University of Leipzig is worthwhile. Beate Schücking has been Rector of the University the­re sin­ce 2011, the first fema­le after more than 600 years and 967 male predecessors. 

The fact that she is the first woman in this office is qui­te a spe­cial situa­ti­on to her. “Of cour­se it is important for women to see that women make it into lea­ders­hip posi­ti­ons and that they do a good job the­re. This has cer­tain­ly been a con­cern to me as well,” she says. But it had not been her sole moti­va­ti­on to take up a lea­ders­hip position. 

Nevertheless, she admits it is important that the­re are role models. „And I do belie­ve that it is qui­te bene­fi­cial for insti­tu­ti­ons to alter­na­te at times. That is, to have women in lea­ders­hip posi­ti­ons, too. Now, it does not need to be for­ced. But it cer­tain­ly hel­ps insti­tu­ti­ons, just as it hel­ps to have qui­te a num­ber of fema­le pro­fes­sors broa­de­ning the spec­trum. This allows insti­tu­ti­ons to go ahead and review their per­spec­ti­ves and to get even bet­ter, and that’s what it always has to be about,“ she continues. 

The University of Leipzig has deve­lo­ped a who­le cata­lo­gue of mea­su­res to address the pro­blem of equi­ty, too. The num­bers of fema­le pro­fes­sors have risen to a simi­lar pro­por­ti­on as in Halle. Rector Schücking is stay­ing con­fi­dent about fur­ther chan­ge: „I assu­me that in the fore­see­ab­le future an incre­a­sing num­ber of fema­le pro­fes­sors will be reflec­ted in an incre­a­sing num­ber of fema­le rec­tors and presidents.“ 

The East Germans 

And then the­re is ano­t­her fin­ding that may not be sur­pri­sing at all  —  and yet it real­ly no lon­ger fits our time. Among all 84 rec­tors and pre­si­dents, the­re is not a sin­gle one from the east of Germany. This is a dif­fi­cult topic on which the­re is still too litt­le rese­arch. Even the HRK does not offer a simp­le ratio­na­le for this and points to the low level of research. 

Professor Mierendorff (University of Halle) sees it this way: “After the fall of the Berlin Wall, many pro­fes­sor­s­hips were dis­con­ti­nued. University lea­ders, the peop­le who pre­pa­red and car­ri­ed out the reor­ga­ni­sa­ti­on of the uni­ver­si­ties, came from West Germany, as did teams of advi­sors. As a result, important posi­ti­ons and pro­fes­sor­s­hips were fil­led pri­ma­ri­ly with West Germans. Over three deca­des, this has led to the con­se­quen­ces that are still visi­ble today and are right­ly cri­ti­cis­ed the­se days”. It is dif­fi­cult to tell how this situa­ti­on is going to deve­lop in the cour­se of time, she says. 

Even the German Chancellor speaks of a real defi­cit and offers an attempt to exp­lain it in an inter­view with Der Spiegel: “The rea­son may be that many were alrea­dy too old in the peri­od around 1989/90. With my 35 years of age, I would have had a hard time clim­bing the care­er lad­der in the busi­ness world at that time, too. If you were a child back then, you can of cour­se still reach top positions.” 

Raj Kollmorgen, socio­lo­gist at the University of Applied Sciences Zittau/Görlitz, pro­vi­des a dif­fe­rent approach. He assu­mes that many East Germans do not have the habi­tus of the upper class, their self-con­fi­dent appearan­ce. Moreover, East German fami­lies might focus more on secu­ri­ty and sta­bi­li­ty. The Chancellor also attri­bu­tes it to a cer­tain men­ta­li­ty in the East when she encou­ra­ges East Germans to push into lea­ders­hip positions.

Others, such as the poli­ti­cal sci­en­tist Lars Vogel of the University of Leipzig, reject this inter­pre­ta­ti­on. He sees the pro­blem more in the net­works of West Germans. To regio­nal broad­cas­ter NDR he says: „In many are­as we see that eli­tes recruit from wit­hin them­sel­ves. In other words: bos­ses like to find a suc­ces­sor who is simi­lar to them.“ 

However, it has not always been the case that the­re were no East German uni­ver­si­ty rec­tors. From 1992 to 1996, the University of Halle had a rec­tor who was born in Magdeburg, Gunnar Berg. He sees the rea­son for the lack of East Germans in top uni­ver­si­ty posi­ti­ons in the fact that today main­ly lawy­ers and social sci­en­tists occu­py the­se posi­ti­ons. There can­not pos­si­b­ly be any East Germans among them, he says, becau­se their pro­fes­sio­nal care­ers do not allow for it. In his time, only natu­ral sci­en­tists, mathe­ma­ti­ci­ans and tech­ni­ci­ans could be found at East German uni­ver­si­ties. He hims­elf is a physicist. 

There are dif­fe­rent explana­ti­ons, but many peop­le agree on one thing: This is a pro­blem that should be sol­ved in the cour­se of time. Today, Gunnar Berg says, it is all about qua­li­fi­ca­ti­ons. The Rector of the University of Leipzig also speaks of a genera­tio­nal chan­ge that is slow­ly taking place. Of cour­se, howe­ver, the selec­tion of the best will still be the deter­mi­ning fac­tor, she says.

Illustration: Ellen Neugebauer
A temporary problem? 

Both defi­ci­en­ci­es the­re­fo­re have one thing in com­mon. They should be resol­ved over time, whe­ther by various mea­su­res or sim­ply through a genera­tio­nal chan­ge. All the peop­le in char­ge por­tray a bright future. It’s what they have to do. At least one thing is cer­tain: The pro­blems have been iden­ti­fied and they are being dis­cus­sed. At any rate, this is a first step into a more equi­ta­ble future. 

  • Die deut­sche Version die­ses Artikels fin­det Ihr hier.

Translated with con­tri­bu­ti­ons from: Hannah Bramekamp, Konrad Dieterich, Anne Jüngling and Laurin Weger 

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