Education Minister: Stark-Watzinger refuses to resign in funding scandal

Education Minister: Stark-Watzinger refuses to resign in funding scandal
Education Minister: Stark-Watzinger refuses to resign in funding scandal

The Minister of Education is sending her State Secretary into retirement because of incriminating emails following university protests against the Gaza war. She has refused to resign. Critics are calling her a “pawn sacrifice”.

Federal Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger has rejected calls for her resignation in connection with a funding scandal. “I see no reason for that,” the FDP politician told journalists in Berlin. “I did not give the order to have the funding consequences examined, nor did I want to,” said the minister. Despite repeated critical inquiries, she did not comment on any further background information. The Union had previously sharply criticized Stark-Watzinger and also called for her resignation. Scientists believe that trust in her has been shaken.

The story is complex, goes back several weeks and reached its preliminary high point on Sunday evening when Stark-Watzinger announced that she was parting ways with her state secretary Sabine Döring. A new start in terms of personnel was necessary, she wrote in a statement. State secretaries are the highest-ranking officials in ministries after ministers. The Federal Ministry of Education has four of them. The dismissal was a consequence of the ministry’s handling of an open letter from university professors on the Middle East conflict.

Controversy over Berlin protest letter after camp evacuation

The affair is part of the social controversy that developed in Germany after the terrorist attack by Hamas on October 7 and in the course of the subsequent Gaza war. Protests broke out at universities. In May, more than 100 lecturers from several Berlin universities wrote an open letter criticizing the clearing of a protest camp of pro-Palestinian demonstrators 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 also includes the occupation of university grounds,” they wrote.

Stark-Watzinger had criticized the letter and, according to her own statement, is “still stunned by how one-sidedly the letter ignored the terror of Hamas. And how it made a blanket demand not to prosecute crimes at universities, while at the same time anti-Semitic incitement and violent attacks against Jewish citizens are being observed,” as she wrote on Sunday evening. The position of the minister and that of the university professors who signed the letter has been the subject of controversial debate for weeks, especially on social networks.

Emails incriminate minister

The minister herself has now come under fire after the ARD magazine “Panorama” published emails last week which revealed that someone at a high level in the ministry had asked for an investigation into the extent to which statements in the protest letter from the Berlin university professors were relevant under criminal law and whether the ministry could cut funding as a consequence. According to the report, the email exchange shows that ministry employees expressed concerns about such an investigation. But critics believe that even such considerations are an infringement on the freedom of science guaranteed by the Basic Law.

Stark-Watzinger did not comment on the issue for a long time and then announced on Sunday evening that there was indeed such a request for an investigation from the relevant specialist departments in her ministry and that this investigation had been ordered by State Secretary Döring. As a result, she must now vacate her post. According to her own statements, Stark-Watzinger only found out about the email with the request for an investigation last Tuesday. “I defend academic freedom in every direction. Science funding is based on scientific criteria, not on political worldviews. That is a core principle of academic freedom,” she said.

Prien speaks of “pawn sacrifice”

There is debate about whether Döring’s dismissal can be a liberating blow for the minister and whether she really was not involved in the events surrounding the email in question. Schleswig-Holstein’s education minister and CDU vice-chair Karin Prien – who Stark-Watzinger has also repeatedly harshly criticized on other issues – wrote on X that State Secretary Döring was being “made a pawn” and that this was showing politics at its ugly side. The CDU/CSU parliamentary group’s education policy spokesman, Thomas Jarzombek, explained that Stark-Watzinger was right that a new start in terms of personnel was necessary in the ministry. “She must now take this step herself,” he demanded.

The president of the German University Association, Lambert Koch, told the “Rheinische Post”: “It is hardly credible that your state secretary would commission an investigation into such a politically sensitive matter without her knowledge.” Trust in Stark-Watzinger within the scientific community has been shaken.

Coalition partners SPD and Greens hold back on open criticism

The coalition partners SPD and Greens refrained from openly criticizing the FDP minister. “It is good that Federal Minister Stark-Watzinger is now clarifying the matter and drawing serious consequences,” said Oliver Kaczmarek, education policy spokesman for the SPD parliamentary group. Now it is necessary to fight for lost trust and to ensure that such events are not repeated. The chairman of the Bundestag’s education committee, Kai Gehring (Greens), made a similar statement. It is important that the top management of the house has made a clear commitment to academic freedom. “This clear path must now be continued in a credible manner in order to restore lost trust.”

Source: Stern

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