Senate decides to begin critical debate on Münster University’s name-giver

The Münster Schloss is where the Rectorate of Münster University is located. © W

The Münster Schloss is where the Rectorate of Münster University is located. © WWU - Jan Lehmann

The Senate of the Westfälische Wilhelms-University (University of Münster) has decided unanimously that the University should promote a critical, public debate on the subject of Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941), after whom the University is named. The basis for this decision is the final report of an eight-strong taskforce which the University had set up in October 2018 and which now advocated that the University “take up the challenge of having a critical, public and unflinching discussion on how the man who gave his name to the University of Münster is to be judged today.” As the President of the Senate, Prof. Hinnerk Wißmann, says, “At the moment no decision will be taken about the University’s name. But we have decided, on the basis of a concept that has been submitted, to begin a structured, wide-ranging discussion and to work on clarification of the historical background. This is the prerequisite for reaching a viable decision at a later date.” The Senate commissioned the Rectorate of Münster University with implementing the wide-ranging measures proposed by the taskforce - measures which aim to provide a basis, two years later, for making a decision on the issue of the name. The University, which was founded in 1780, has borne the name of its benefactor since 1907.

The eight-strong taskforce led by Münster University historian Prof. Olaf Blaschke agreed that it was time to take the initiative and have a critical dialogue based on the facts. This decision was itself based on the taskforce’s findings that it was beyond doubt that Wilhelm II was “eminently militaristic and nationalistic, anti-Slav and quite obsessively antisemitic, sometimes even more so than his contemporaries”. Evidence of this could be found, said the taskforce, in particular in the three-volume biography of Wilhelm II by John C. G. Röhl. On the issue of so-called war guilt with regard to the outbreak of the First World War, there were “alternative interpretations” nowadays, said the taskforce. “In the long-term, such a discussion on the University’s own identity may also lead to a change of name becoming unavoidable,” says the final report, “which is something that notable sections of the student body consider to be a matter of some urgency”.

In order to promote a critical public debate, the Senate followed the proposal made by the taskforce for a “wide-ranging package of measures”. These include, for example, discussions relating to Wilhelm II on the University’s homepage, as well as producing information boards and brochures and taking the opportunity provided by the welcoming event for freshers to address the issue of Wilhelm giving his name to the University; further proposals include a series of public discussions with prestigious historians, and an exhibition devoted to Wilhelm II and the history of the University. All these measures are designed to reach out to everyone in the city of Münster

According to North Rhine-Westphalia’s Universities Act, Universities can name themselves as they wish in their Constitutions - although this requires the consent of the North Rhine-Westphalian Ministry of the Interior. At the University of Münster, the Senate is responsible for the University’s Constitution.

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