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University of Freiburg Dissociates Itself from Past Honorary Senators

Senate passes resolution on six deceased honorary senators with a National Socialist past

Freiburg, Oct 25, 2017

University of Freiburg Dissociates Itself from Past Honorary Senators

Reich Minister of the Interior Frick (at the lectern), here receiving the title of honorary senator in 1940 in the University of Freiburg’s assembly hall, is one of six past honorary senators the university is dissociating itself from. Photo:Univ. Archive

“On account of their transgressions in the time of National Socialism, the Senate dissociates itself from the appointment of the following persons as honorary senators: Wilhelm Frick, Karl Gärtner, Werner Haustein, Franz Kerber, Franz Xaver Rappenecker, and Emil Tscheulin.” This is the wording of a resolution passed unanimously by the University Senate on 25 October 2017. Rector Prof. Dr. Hans-Jochen Schiewer emphasizes: “The university thus makes it clear that we condemn the National Socialist involvement of the persons concerned in the strongest possible terms and that we refuse to honor contemptible behavior in the National Socialist era.”

The resolution marked the end of a comprehensive process of historical reappraisal. After accusations against individual honorary senators became known, the Senate asked Prof. Dr. Gisela Riescher, Vice President for Research Integrity, Gender, and Diversity, on 28 October 2015 to establish a group of experts to conduct a systematic scholarly review of the matter. Subsequently, a committee of six experts in history, law, and political science collected information on all University of Freiburg honorary senators appointed since 1922 and analyzed it on the basis of previously defined criteria. Following a thorough investigation, the group of experts has now submitted its final report. The report, which was welcomed unanimously by the Senate, may be viewed here.

The report makes it clear that the title of honorary senator was always conferred in the particular historical context. The group’s chair, Vice President Riescher, says: “The honors are a part of university history. The point of the review cannot be to revise or correct history from the perspective of the present.” In the opinion of the group of experts, it would therefore not be constructive for the Senate to decide in retrospect whether it would decide to confer every honor conferred in the past again today or whether it still considers these past decisions to have been correct or not. “That would be unhistorical,” says Riescher. “However, there are several particularly serious cases among the honorary senators with a National Socialist past about whom the university does not wish to remain silent.” In concrete terms, the report shows that the six persons named above were closely involved in National Socialism and documents this involvement in attached individual reports. In keeping with the recommendations made in the report, the Senate dissociated itself from the appointment of these persons as honorary senators.

According to the prevailing opinion among legal experts, the title of honorary senator is a personal honor that becomes void at death. It may thus no longer be taken away from deceased persons. The persons named above are all deceased and are hence no longer honorary senators. It is therefore not legally possible to strip them of the title of honorary senator. To nevertheless make a clear political statement to the effect that the university disapproves of the National Socialist involvement of these persons, the Senate opted for the path of a public declaration of dissociation.

The university’s intention in passing this resolution is to deal openly with its recent past, not to reinterpret it. The point is not to rewrite history or to silently erase names from lists and registers. The persons concerned will remain on the list of honorary senators, as this list gives information about past honors and therefore about historical facts. However, the list will be supplemented with a remark next to the names of these persons calling attention to the Senate’s resolution to dissociate itself from them. The university has posted an edited list of honorary senators reflecting these changes on its website (see here).

The university does not regard the resolution as having settled the matter permanently. Should new findings indicating that individual honorary senators were guilty of serious transgressions emerge in the future, the university will look into the matter again. The University of Freiburg views the task of coming to terms with its own past as a continuous process that must be addressed offensively and repeatedly.


Prof. Dr. Gisela Riescher
Vice President for Research Integrity, Gender, and Diversity
University of Freiburg
Phone: +49 (0)761/203-4322