'Skiver' diver faces ministry wrath

August 6, 1999

HAMBURG

A German professor of marine biology is facing investigation and possible disciplinary proceedings by Baden-Wurttemberg's education ministry, after claims that he has played truant from his post at Heidelberg University for years.

Hajo Schmidt, 62, has been nicknamed "Professor Holiday" by the German media after reports that his sole annual contribution to teaching is a two-week diving excursion in the Mediterranean for students - including a lecture.

The university claims Professor Schmidt has not run any teaching courses or examinations at Heidelberg for years and that his last academic publication was in the 1980s.

In May, after various warnings had been issued, the ministry - Professor Schmidt's employer - informed him it would be cutting part of his salary after he had failed to teach a foundation course that had been allocated to him. It is now investigating whether disciplinary proceedings can be taken against him.

Professor Schmidt disputes the accusations. He told the German press agency dpa that jealous colleagues had given him the reputation of being lazy and that he was the victim of workplace bullying. "The aim is systematically to drive me out," the dpa reports him as saying.

He also claimed his laboratories at the university had been plundered and research papers taken. The university says they were cleared because they were so little used and that Professor Schmidt had been told in advance.

Michael Schwarz, spokesman for Heidelberg University, said: "There have been many attempts to encourage Professor Schwarz to fulfil his teaching obligations ... It is now up to the ministry as his employer to decide how to act."

The dispute, which has been running since the 1980s, has become so complicated that it is difficult for outsiders to understand. But it highlights a growing controversy in German higher education over whether some university professors are neglecting their duties.

Klaus Landfried, president of the conference of German university rectors, recently demanded that the disciplinary regulations for higher educuation lecturers be tightened up. "As a last resort, lazy professors should be threatened with the sack. Effective sanctions would solve the problem," he said.

He said professors' Beamtenstatus (civil servant status), which gives them tenure and other generous privileges, should be abolished in an attempt to tackle "stagnation" in universities and research.

Professor Landfried is a member of an expert commission set up in June by federal education minister Edelgard Bulmahn to reform academic employment regulations. The commission is to discuss introducing performance-related pay and better promotion chances for academic new blood.

North Rhine-Westphalia has become the first German state to tackle the issue in its state laws by announcing plans to oblige professors to offer teaching on three days a week and to be available for student advice for four days.

Under the current rules, most professors are obliged to teach only eight hours a week.

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