Heart attack after the election to University Rektor

In late summer 1969, the University founders in East Westphalia received news that the state government had approved the University’s statutes, which had been the subject of long and intensive struggle. This, together with reaching the number of professors and research associates set out in the statutes, provides the basis for the formation of the University committees.

Constituent assembly of the Senate in the grand meeting hall of Bielefeld Town Hall. At the head of the room are Chancellor Dr. Eberhard Firnhaber, Rektor Professor Dr. Ernst-Joachim Mestmäcker and his personal consultant Dr. Udo Jansen.

Photo: Günter Rudolf
Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, NEG R 1_5_5_3

On the afternoon of the 5 September 1969, 14 representatives from the teaching body, seven research associates – among them Dr. Dorothea Böhmer, ZiF assistant and the only woman – and several non-voting representatives of the founding committee and the scientific advisory council met in the large meeting room of Bielefeld Town Hall.

The only items on the agenda were the formation of the Senate and the election of a Rektor. However, it had already been agreed in advance that both matters needed to be reviewed again shortly, as the statutes foresaw the participation of all faculties and the student body in such decisions. At that point in time, neither the faculties of Sociology and of Mathematics nor the student body had constituted themselves.

During a break in the Senate meeting: The new Rektor Professor Dr. Mestmäcker in conversation with University Chancellor Dr. Firnhaber.

Photo: Günter Rudolf
Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, NEG R 1_5_4_3

The election

Law professor Ernst-Joachim Mestmäcker, the chairperson of the founding committee, was elected Rektor by a large majority. In February 1969, he was appointed by the Minister of Education to oversee the Rektorat. Karl-Peter Grotemeyer, who had just accepted a position at the University as Professor of Mathematics, was also elected by a large majority, and became Mestmäcker’s only vice-rector.

After the election, Mestmäcker answers the questions of reporter Werner Höcker from the German public broadcasting company WDR.

Fotograf: Günter Rudolf
Quelle: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, NEG R 1_5_3_2

Dark shadow

But just a few hours later a dark shadow fell over the successful election. Ernst-Joachim Mestmäcker, who had answered questions from the press and radio after the Senate meeting, suffered a heart attack a few hours later and had to be taken by his driver to a Bielefeld hospital.

Contemporary witnesses to the dramatic events on the day of the Senate’s founding. Excerpt from the film “Rector for Life” in honour of Karl Peter Grotemeyer, 2009.

Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FS 47

Although the worst fears of those involved in the founding process did not materialise, Mestmäcker’s continuing health problems led to the election of vice-rector Grotemeyer, and not Mestmäcker, to Rektor in March 1970. Grotemeyer had provisionally taken over the duties of overseeing the Rektorat from 5 September 1969. He remained Rektor until 1992, and is probably the university Rektor with the longest term of office in Germany to this day.