Students, university officials and politicians throughout Germany have called on higher education institutions to check racism, discrimination and xenophobia.
The "Marburg Declaration", the outcome of a three-day congress on higher education, racism and human rights, condemned the tougher aliens regulations introduced last year, claiming that the new law has "virtually abolished the right of sanctuary and established the legal inequality of residents".
The congress, held at Marburg University, goes back to an invitation of the federal ministry of education and science and World University Service to more than 30 student organisations to participate in an anti-racism and anti-xenophobia working party, which in turn decided last spring to stage a nationwide meeting.
It was run by the Association Internationale des Etudients en Sciences Economiques et Commerciales, the European Law Students' Association, the newly founded Information Centre for Racism Research, and the Konservativismus und Wissenschaft project, which arranges workshops for students and scholars to discuss the impact of conservatism and new rightist movements on academic issues.
Hessian parliamentary state secretary Alexander Muller warned against illusions that xenophobia and racism were marginal issues for intellectuals. It was scholars at German universities who signed the Heidelberg Manifesto in 1981. The manifesto held that the "people of Germany" could only survive on the basis of "intact German families", and that the then valid Aliens Law clashed with the "fundamental principle" that "all Germans should maintain and protect our people's right to live".
University scholars also sparked off the Historikerstreit in 1986 by playing down or denying Nazi crimes and putting them on a par with other acts of genocide. "Racism and xenophobia are central, deeply-rooted problems of society," Mr Muller said. "They result partly from repressing memory of the Nazi past. But reasons must also be sought in the consequences of socio-economic structural transformation."
There have been several instances of racism and xenophobia at German universities in recent months. In one, leaflets turned up at Duisburg University announcing that the National Federation of German Students was "preparing ethnic cleansing campaigns to rid the German people of harmful elements".
Although this organisation has frequently issued threats against university members, police authorities have displayed a curious inability to take anyone associated with it into custody.
In Marburg itself, an incident involving xenophobia remarks has resulted in a legal battle. Hans Geub, who teaches at the university's medical faculty, is said to have thrown a Turkish student out of a lecture, telling her to "go back to Tehran" if she wanted to carry on wearing her headscarf.
The issue was taken up by the dean of Marburg Protestant Church, Bundesmann Lotz, and quickly entered the local press. A petition was signed by a number of people, condemning the professor's remarks. But disciplinary procedures initiated by the university against Professor Geub were soon suspended. He himself tried to sue Dr Lotz and her supporters for DM25,000 (Pounds 10,288). "The most frustrating thing about all this is that none of the other students said anything when the incident happened," DIR co-founder Jochen Schmidt said.
A number of Marburg University's lecturers support the DIR, and higher education institutions and organisations campaigning against racism have access to its data network installed in Marburg University's computer centre.
DIR also intends to organise special university lectures. However there is no intention to integrate it in the university. Instead, it is meant as a means of fostering debate between higher education and other parts of society on racism issues.
Ignatz Bubis, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said that the majority of the population were not xenophobic, but merely indifferent.
However, referring to a recent incident in Berlin, he noted that "if 17 citizens just look on when a Ghanaian is thrown out of a moving train, we are talking about contributory negligence and failure to render aid. It is vital that people intervene when these things happen. It probably won't impress the perpetrators of violence. But it will make others less indifferent."