Stark-Watzinger and the State Secretary split up

A top federal worker has been placed on temporary retirement by the Federal Minister of Education due to damning emails discovered after university rallies against the Gaza war. She has drawn criticism for being a “pawn sacrifice.”

Berlin: Reactions to Federal Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger’s decision to split from State Secretary Sabine Döring following a financing controversy have been conflicting. The move was applauded by the SPD, a coalition partner. Politicians for the Union harshly denounced it, referred to it as a pawn sacrifice, and demanded that Stark-Watzinger step down.

The FDP lawmaker had declared that she had requested that state secretary Olaf Scholz (SPD) temporarily retire her. This has its origins in leaked emails from her ministry, concerning the handling of an open letter from professors at Berlin universities who had objected to the removal of a demonstration camp filled with pro-Palestinian protestors at the Free University of Berlin. According to reports, the emails discussed reducing the letter’s funding.

Berlin protest letter controversy following camp evacuation

The affair is a part of the social controversy that arose in Germany following the October 7 terrorist attack by Hamas and the ensuing Gaza War. University campuses saw protests. More than a hundred professors from various Berlin universities expressed their disapproval in an open letter sent in May over the evacuation of a pro-Palestinian protest camp at the Free University of Berlin.

“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 includes occupying university grounds,” they stated in a letter.

In a statement, Stark-Watzinger said she was “still stunned by how one-sidedly the letter ignored the terror of Hamas.” She has previously condemned the letter. And how, at the same time when anti-Semitic agitation and violent attacks against Jewish citizens are being noted, it issued a general call not to prosecute offenses at colleges,” the author stated. For weeks, there has been contentious discussion on the minister’s and the signatories’ positions from the university, particularly on social media.

Emails implicate the minister

The minister is currently under fire after emails from a high-ranking ministry official were leaked to the ARD magazine “Panorama” last week. The emails revealed that the ministry was considering cutting funding if it could not determine whether the professors’ letter of protest at Berlin University qualified as criminal law.

The email exchange reveals that ministry staff members voiced reservations about this kind of examination, according to the article. However, detractors contend that even these factors violate the Basic Law’s provision of scientific independence.

At first, Stark-Watzinger remained silent, but on Sunday night, she declared that an inquiry had been requested from the relevant ministry departments and that State Secretary Döring had given the order for it. She is so required to resign from her position.

Stark-Watzinger claims that she became aware of the disputed email last Tuesday. “I stand up for academic freedom in all respects. Funding for science is determined by scientific standards, not by political ideologies. That is a fundamental tenet of academic freedom,” the speaker stated.

Regarding “pawn sacrifice,” Prien says

The question of whether this will be a freeing step for the minister is currently being discussed. Education minister for Schleswig-Holstein and CDU vice-chair Karin Prien wrote on X that Döring was being “made a pawn” and that this was an example of politics at its worst. Prien has also fiercely attacked education minister Stark-Watzinger on a number of other occasions. “Federal Minister Stark-Watzinger is correct in stating that the BMBF needs a fresh hire class. The CDU/CSU parliamentary group’s education policy spokesman, Thomas Jarzombek, clarified that “she must now take this step herself.”

At first, the minister’s action was applauded by the coalition partner SPD: “Federal Minister Stark-Watzinger’s clarification of the situation and the imposition of severe penalties are commendable.” As before, financial decisions must be solely based on scientific evidence. We now need to rebuild lost trust and make sure that such incidents don’t happen again,” wrote Oliver Kaczmarek, the SPD parliamentary group’s education policy spokesman, at X. In addition to being the cornerstone of collaboration within the traffic light alliance, academic freedom is an indisputable right.

Kai Gehring (Greens), the head of the Bundestag’s education committee, said similar things. He claimed that after “dealing with the serious incident internally, the ministry’s management has decided that personnel consequences were unavoidable.” The ministry’s top management’s unambiguous commitment to academic freedom is crucial. “This clear path must now be continued in a credible manner in order to restore lost trust.”

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