Q+ Fireside Chat with Professor Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Horst Hippler, former President of the Hochschulrektorenkonferenz

Report by Florina Schalamon (5th semester Bachelor’s degree student in physics) and Jonas Klöker (5th semester Bachelor’s degree student in linguistics/Ancient Near-Eastern Philology).

As part of the seminar titled “Research, Publishing, Quality Assurance, and Costs,” we were given the opportunity to have a (rather relaxed) scholarly discussion with a well-known and polarizing representative of the German academic system: our guest at the Q+ Fireside Chat on November 16, 2018 was Dr. Dr. h. c. mult. Horst Hippler, the long-standing former president of the Hochschulrektorenkonferenz (German Rector’s Conference).

Prof. Hippler first provided a short overview of the emergence and development of German universities, the exportation of the Humboldtian concept of the university around the world, and the current state of the university both in Germany and internationally. Prof. Hippler focused on copyright law in scholarship and digitalization in particular.

For the accompanying discussion with Prof. Hippler, we Q+ students met before the seminar to prepare questions on several topics, including questions on the responsibilities of academia, the development of the academic system, conception of values, the role-model function played by universities; sustainability; digitalization and access to information; the mission and concepts of research and teaching; quality and the future of university studies and teaching; the Excellence Initiative; and the relationship between the federal and state governments, as well as Prof. Hippler’s personal projects, such as the establishment of the KIT Karlsruhe.

Among these many topics, Prof. Hippler outlined the consequences of digitalization and the policies of the major scientific publishers and consortia, taking a critical stance towards these policies. He also discussed the explosion of costs in recent years, and the imperative to continue to provide access to knowledge and scientific findings to all. Here we were in agreement with Professor Hippler that projects financed with public funds must be accessible to everyone.

Another topic we dealt with for some time was the potential function that universities play in serving as role models. For Professor Hippler, it was important to emphasize that universities should not take on a patronizing stance – universities ought to be places where even controversial opinions can be openly discussed. We were in agreement with him on this point. But when we turned our attention to global issues, such as how to tackle climate change with sustainable initiatives, some of us Q+ students felt that, yes, institutions like universities should serve as role models – and even pioneering forces.

We also spent a good deal of time on the topic of quality and the future of university studies and teaching, which was where the discussion took quite a controversial turn: Prof. Hippler was of the opinion that academics who do excellent research are also excellent teachers. Based on our own personal experiences in many different areas of the university, we pushed back on this assertion. We were much more of the opinion that university instructors should be better trained in higher education pedagogy and that they should have to undergo regular training in teaching methods. In this vein, institutional directors and deans should also be more involved with individual instructors.

In preparing for our Q+ Fireside Chat, each student prepared a thematic block and took responsibility for leading the conversation during their block. This gave us a good line of conversation, but as the dialogue organically unfolded, this structure finally gave way to a lively discussion. Despite minor moments of uncertainty, we really enjoyed this discussion and the unique opportunity to take a look “behind the scenes” it afforded us. We are especially grateful to Q+ for providing us the opportunity to practice leading a scholarly discussion with such a well-known academic luminary.

Florina Schalamon, 5th Semester, BSc Physics;
Jonas Klöker, 5th Semester, BA Linguistics/Ancient Near-East Philology.

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