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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