Helmut Schelsky given go ahead to plan a university

Universities in Bochum, Dortmund and Düsseldorf – and now East Westphalia (OWL). The state government of North Rhine-Westphalia decides to establish another state university in East Westphalia. North Rhine-Westphalia’s Minister of Culture Paul Mikat commissions the Münster sociologist Professor Dr. Helmut Schelsky to plan a “university in the East Westphalian region”.

Professor Dr. Helmut Schelsky (1912-1984), one of the most influential sociologists of the “Bonn Republic”, Professor of Sociology in Hamburg, Münster and Bielefeld. In the 1960s, he headed the “Sozialforschungsstelle” in Dortmund, an institute for social research, and devoted himself to the planning and development of Bielefeld University and the University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZIF). Increasingly frustrated by the impact of the “68ers” and disappointed by the development of Bielefeld University, he soon abandoned his plans for the university.

Photo: Günter Rudolf
Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld

Before the planning contract was announced in the press, Mikat and representatives of the ministry had intensive discussions with Schelsky. As one of the most important sociologists in Germany who “set the agenda for the Zeitgeist” (Ludolf Hermann), Schelsky had in the 1960s increasingly turned his attention to education policy issues and the reform of the German higher education system. In an extensive article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), Schelsky outlined his concept on how to found universities and constructive and critical approaches to doing so in West Germany. With this article and his 1963 monograph “Einsamkeit und Freiheit: Idee und Gestalt der deutschen Universität und ihrer Reformen” (Loneliness and Freedom: Ideas and Form of the German University and its Reforms), Schelsky was considered an expert on the topic.

  • Professor Dr. Paul Mikat (1924-2011), Professor of Civil Law, History of Law and Church Law in Würzburg and from 1965 in Bochum. Minister of Education of North Rhine-Westphalia from 1962 to 1966 and later Member of the State and Bundestag (appointment from 1966) for the Christian Democrats, CDU.

    Photo: unknown
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 01861.
  • Title page of the 1966 paper by Paul Mikat and Helmut Schelsky, “Grundzüge einer neuen Universität: Zur Planung einer Hochschulgründung in Ostwestfalen” (Basic Principles of a New University: On planning a University in East Westphalia) in which Schelsky also describes how the planning contract came about.
  • Title page of Helmut Schelsky’s “Einsamkeit und Freiheit” (Loneliness and Freedom) from 1963. This monograph, together with contributions in national newspapers, most likely brought Schelsky to Mikat’s attention.

Schelsky given free hand
On 20 January 1965, when Mikat approached him privately about founding a university in East Westphalia and soon afterward offered him the chairmanship of a founding committee, Schelsky still did not have a finished concept up his sleeve. He was now forced to apply his theoretical ideas to a meaningful and practical plan for the University. Only two brief outlines on the “Basic Principles of Founding a University in East Westphalia” and “Basic Principles of a New University” as well as another personal meeting on 26 February seemed to have convinced Mikat. In his list of appointments, Schelsky notes under this date: “Full approval by Mikat. Gives me a free hand. Planning order”. Schelsky appointed his own members for this committee, despite having a list drawn up for him by the ministry. Able to work largely autonomously, which was unusual in the second half of the twentieth century, he began to work on “his” plans for the University.