June 24, 2021
Digital Panel Discussion: What's in a Name?


At the beginning of the panel discussion, Professor Johannes Wessels, Rector of the WWU, reports that the current debate is not the first such discussion in Münster. With the "Zur Sache WWU" project, the university is taking up an impulse that students brought to the Senate. The Senate is the highest governing body of the WWU, in which all status groups of the university (students, faculty, staff) are represented and whose members are regularly elected democratically. To answer the question of how to deal with the namesake of the University of Münster in a contemporary way, the Senate set up a working group. This group developed a concept that is now being implemented by the rectorate. The series of discussions now beginning is one of several recommended measures. Mr. Wessels emphasizes that the outcome of the debate is still completely open.

The University of Greifswald has experienced a very similar process since 2009. Professor Johanna Weber has moderated this process, first as a simple member of the Senate, later as Rector of the University. In 1933, National Socialist-minded groups had imposed the name Ernst Moritz Arndt for the University of Greifswald. Abandoned in 1945, this designation was taken up again by the SED in 1954. The debate in 2009 about the discontinuation of the name was initially conducted very objectively, but when it entered a new phase in 2016, it was politically instrumentalized and accompanied by hate messages and anonymous threats. In 2018, the Senate decided by a large majority to discontinue the name affix - but Ernst Moritz Arndt continues to be present on campus as part of the university's history. It seemed remarkable to Ms. Weber that the moment the decision was made, the topic was no longer discussed.

The historian of science, Professor Mitchell Ash, formerly of the University of Vienna, supplemented this report with a historical overview, which he began with the thesis that there is no compulsion for universities to bear a name. If they bear the name of a historical person, this could have financial or political reasons. For Münster, however, he suspects, it was a matter of increasing the importance of the location and pandering to the authorities. University names must therefore be considered in the temporal context of their naming, whereby he has often observed that the naming is in the service of freely constructed traditions.

From an economic perspective, Professor Christoph Burmann, University of Bremen, emphasizes that universities have the advantage over classic companies that the combination of the term "university" and the place name both clearly designates what kind of company it is and concretely locates it on an internal map. Therefore, a newly established university would not need to fund a brand launch campaign. For international perception, an additional name is of secondary importance. However, it is important in a name debate that employees and students are just as involved as the general public.

As co-editor of the FAZ and member of the WWU University Council, Jürgen Kaube has been following the recent name debates and monument toppling from the perspective of a media professional. He argued that on the one hand, of course, colonial criminals should not be honored by street names, but on the other hand, given the energy invested in even the smallest issues, he had the impression that it was often enough about the discussion itself, the desire to argue. It was striking that such discussions were only held by a few, leaving out the entirety of those affected. Following on from Ms. Weber's comments, he confirms the impression that in such disputes something else is often negotiated than the actual subject matter of the dispute. In relation to the university, the name dispute is only symbolic, since the name has no relation to research and teaching.

During the discussion, questions from the audience were collected and moderated by the panel. Towards the end, some audience members also made use of the opportunity to ask their questions directly. The questions showed a great and differentiated interest in the topic. All questions and hints were collected and will be considered in the further project planning.

Johanna Weber, former rector of the University of Greifswald, professor of psychology
Christoph Burmann, Professor of Innovative Brand Management and Marketing, University of Bremen
Jürgen Kaube, co-publisher of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Mitchell G. Ash, historian of science, professor emer. of modern history, University of Vienna
Johannes Wessels, Rector of the WWU Münster, Professor of Nuclear Physics

Kathrin Kottke, Communications and Public Relations Office
Eckhard Kluth, Central Custody & Project Manager

Background Team:
Kathrin Schulte, project staff member
Dominic Eickhoff, SHK in the project