To the office to plan the week: teaching tomorrow. Or perhaps not. Banners announce a general meeting of all students to discuss a university-wide strike, Tuesday 2 pm. Tuesday 2.15 is when I teach my introductory course. Phone to friends and colleagues to discuss what to do - if any students turn up.
To prepare or not to prepare? One student rings to excuse himself: he is ill. At 2.15 the others (14 of them) are all there. Send round the attendance list and then suggest they decide whether to go to the meeting. Most leave. The student who is giving a paper would prefer to go too. We decide to postpone the paper until next week (or whenever). At 4.15 three out of five students turn up for the next class, fresh from the meeting. The strike has been called, with immediate effect, but they want to hold the class anyway. Go home to find a message: students and staff are called to a meeting tomorrow morning.
Find the main door to our humanities building blockaded. The pickets know nothing about a general meeting. Eventually track down the meeting and my colleagues in lecture theatre full of students and staff of Protestant and Catholic theology faculties (which normally never meet). The students present the resolution which was passed by yesterday's general meeting: no student fees, more student participation in decision-making, grants for students who need them, sensible class sizes, money for libraries, no fixed-length courses or compulsory direction of studies, equal opportunities for foreign students, disabled students, women. Conditions in theology are not bad (although between us we have only one woman professor), but the students are keen to demonstrate their solidarity with faculties with enormous classes (more than 100 students in some seminars). No lectures or seminars for the time being, but alternative action. The dean talks about public lectures given in the park during the last strike, but that was in summer. Various suggestions for lectures in the town hall and Hebrew courses in the underground. A group will plan an ecumenical strike service to be held in the churches in the town centre. Another group wants to work on the proposed changes to the federal law governing the universities (Hochschulrahmengesetz), which everyone is worried about but no one seems to have read. Our secretary is worried: will she get back into the building if she goes out? One of the library staff was not allowed in this morning. I send out information about the feminist theology study week in the new year. (The first victim to time pressure if the strike goes on for long?) Friday
The students from my introductory course are keen to do something "but not outside". We decide to focus on the local train, S-Bahn, 13.59, direction Dortmund. Theme: What is church history? We draw up a questionnaire for passengers, assign students to collect strike fliers. Friday to Sunday we have a study weekend in the local Cistercian monastery. In the train on Sunday I meet a student who has been reading the Hochschulrahmengesetz and is convinced that the humanities will not survive. Later a colleague, professor at another university (not yet on strike) phones. Are the humanities really threatened? Rubbish! Has he read the draft changes? No. Decide to go to the discussion group.
The discussion group is short of copies of the proposed changes to the law. As a member of staff I have access to the copier - nine floors up - and the lifts seem not to be working. The proposals want efficiency and excellence in the universities. Students should study more efficiently; professors should publish more; teaching should be improved. The students are worried that the proposed changes will restrict their choice. If there is to be direction of studies it should be by assistants (like me) and not professors. I protest. We discuss measures of research and teaching quality. I leave for a meeting, which proves anything but efficient. Afterwards to the shopping centre for a sandwich. A demonstration is heading for the motorway. A physics lecture is taking place outside the bank. I catch the train back into town (a seminar group works in a station en route) for the strike service and procession to the town hall, then my professor's seminar in a cafe. Oh for the quiet of a seminar room! Some students call for a more public location. More discussion. Another afternoon gone. Conclude that the strike is taking more time than my normal teaching schedule. I still have not checked the last footnotes for my book, timetabled for last week.
Yesterday's general meeting extended the strike for another week. Interviews in the S-Bahn lead to an intense discussion in the cafe afterwards. This is one way of getting the students to talk! Should we do it every semester? They want another action with content related to the seminar, but also with publicity value. Could we use one of the course texts, Erasmus's Praise of Folly? Agree to meet on Tuesday. Back to university for heated discussions about credit for courses affected by the strike. Home to those footnotes.
Charlotte Methuen, Assistant for church history, faculty of Protestant theology, Ruhr-University, Bochum, Germany.