The cancellation of a lecture by the biologist Marie-Luise Vollbrecht on gender and sex by the Humboldt University (HU) Berlin has drawn sharp criticism from the President of the German University Association, Bernhard Kempen. At the same time, Vollbrecht’s doctoral supervisor Rüdiger Krahe showed understanding for the step to the Tagesspiegel – just like other university members
A catch-up date has now been set for the lecture: it is to be made up for on July 14 as part of a discussion round, a HU spokesman told “rbb”. It should be asked how one can deal with such charged situations and polarizing questions.
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With the cancellation on Saturday, the university did a disservice to academic freedom, Kempen told the German Press Agency. “Instead, you should have shown backbone and done everything to ensure that the lecture can take place.” Universities are places of intellectual debate. “Every scientist must be able to put their research results, theses and views up for discussion without fear.”
Federal Research Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger had also criticized the HU. Berlin’s Science Senator Ulrike Gote (Greens) did not want to comment on the process when asked. After the announcement of protests, the university canceled the lecture “Sex is not (gen)sex, sex, gender and why there are two sexes in biology”, which was to be held during the Long Night of Science last Saturday, for security reasons .
Not only did student representatives want to demonstrate against Vollbrecht, protests by supporters were also announced. The students were particularly offended by the fact that Vollbrecht is the co-author of a controversial “Welt” article that alleges that public service broadcasting has a “threatening agenda” on gender and transgender issues. Even Springer boss Matthias Döpfner distanced himself from the text.
The cancellation sparked strong criticism, especially on social media. Vollbrecht’s supervisor Krahe, Professor of Behavioral Physiology at the HU, on the other hand, told the Tagesspiegel that from his point of view the decision was correct – “so as not to endanger the implementation of the other events of the Long Night of Science”. “I think the simultaneous announcement that the lecture will be made up in a different format and that there will be discussions on this topic is just as right.”
The mood is similar among other HU members. The cancellation was “logical,” said a professor. The Long Night is a public event and not science in the strict sense: “You have to make sure that it goes well on stage, for everyone involved.” him stomach ache.
Another speaks of an “overall difficult decision” – but also with regard to an aspect that has tended to get lost in the heated debate so far. It was difficult that the lecture was included in the Long Night program at all. Scientists usually present their own research projects there.
However, Vollbrecht’s lecture had nothing at all to do with her doctoral thesis – not even with the research area in which she works. She is doing her doctorate on the question of how a lack of oxygen affects the brain cells of electric fish.
“So this is not a question of academic freedom, because this is not about your science at all,” said one professor. The HU must ask itself why it didn’t recognize all this beforehand – also that Vollbrecht, with its “Welt” publication and similarly sharp tweets, is obviously pursuing a political agenda that is reflected in the topic of the lecture.
In itself, the question of the status of biological research on the question of gender is of course exciting in principle and also has its justification at the Long Night – nobody at the HU questions that. But there are other researchers at the university who could discuss this much better.
From the point of view of the psychology professor Jule Specht, the HU should have said offensively that the planned format of the lecture would not have allowed for sufficient discourse on the controversial question, but that it was absolutely necessary. “In this respect, it is correct that there should now be an interactive format.” Marie-Luise Vollbrecht has so far left a request for an interview by the Tagesspiegel unanswered.