The university on its 75th birthday

By Prof. Dr. Werner Reinhart

"We have come a long way,
dear child,
and we have far to go."

Written by Heinrich Böll on May 8, 1985 for his 8-year old granddaughter, these lines are fitting for the 75th birthday of an institution whose founding after Nazi rule and the war’s end in Germany was to mark "the end of one epoch and the beginning of the next epoch." That, at least, was the wish of Lieutenant Colonel Wilcox, head of the Education Department for the British military government in Schleswig-Holstein, at the opening ceremonies for the Pädagogische Hochschule Flensburg (Flensburg College of Education). In his speech on Thursday, March 21, 1946, he emphasized the vital importance of the educational profession for the teaching of humanity and morality, and the great responsibility that teachers take on in society.

"We have come a long way." Today’s Europa-Universität Flensburg was founded in 1946 as a democratic new beginning - a "sign of hope," as Peter Bendixen, Schleswig-Holstein’s Minister of Education at the time, put it on the fortieth anniversary of the PH. Admittedly, that sign didn’t shine with perfect purity. For example, the militant racial ideologist and former SS Captain, Hans Joachim Breyer, who taught history at the College, was allowed to continue teaching until 1961 even though his past had been known since 1953. Even so: in its constitution, the PH noted its mission to "enable students to act responsibly in a free, democratic and social constitutional state".

"We have far to go." Time and again over the course of 75 years, the faculty and leaders of this institution have shown serious commitment to their constitutionally-bound mandate. They have wisely linked it to the university’s location on the German-Danish border region and spotlighted regional issues such as minorities, small and medium-sized enterprises, and small and regional languages. As part of this effort, they have closely collaborated with Danish Syddansk Universitet, including on joint degrees. Through this cross-border and border-inspired cooperation, they—and now we—have developed the unique profile of today’s Europa-Universität Flensburg.

When the university declared its commitment to Europe in 2014, that act was as weighty as the re-founding of the Pädagogische Hochschule Flensburg had been back in 1946. It is a commitment to the European peace project, with its fundamental values of democracy, the rule of law and tolerance.

This commitment fits well with the university's educational focus.

75 % of our students are enrolled in teaching-related courses of study. Democracy education in all its facets is a state mandate of schools. In an increasingly globalized environment, this mission can no longer be fulfilled from a regional or national perspective; it requires European and non-European experiences, insights and knowledge cultures. Integrating these even more deeply into our educational science courses is an important goal for the near future.

Thanks to an accelerated expansion of interdisciplinary research and teaching on European issues, "Europe" now complements the traditional focus on teacher training and educational research at our university. And a third focus is currently being incorporated: "Sustainability / Transformation." In it, we research the deep, multifaceted crisis that is putting societies worldwide under economic, ecological, social and political pressure, and ask how societal change towards a sustainable future can be achieved.

From 1946 to 2021. . . even today, some speak of "epochal change": the climate crisis, the crisis of democracy, and the Corona crisis may possibly mark the start of something new. Like the Pädagogische Hochschule Flensburg 75 years ago, today’s Europa-Universität Flensburg sees the questions that emerge from these crises as a call to action. At the heart of our research and teaching is the question of how to create societies worth living in that are also sustainable.

Our (always provisional) answers to this question will be assessed by our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, on the 150th anniversary of today's EUF.

"We have come a long way
and we have far to go,
dear child."