Evaluation of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (2010)

The commission appointed by Luca Giuliani, the rector of the Wissenschaftskolleg, held its meeting on 13 May 2010. Members of the commission are Rivka Feldhay from the Institute of the History and Philosophy of Sciences and Ideas at Tel Aviv University; Andreas V. M. Herz from the Department of Biology II at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich; Roger Nitsch from the Division of Psychiatry Research at the University of Zurich and chairman of the Wissenschaftskolleg’s Academic Advisory Board; Helmut Schwarz, president of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation; and as chairman of the commission, Gerhart von Graevenitz, former rector of the University of Konstanz. Frau Willms-Herget from Germany’s Federal Ministry for Education and Research took part in the commission’s proceedings as an observer.

The commission had extensive material at its disposal, its essential core being the rector’s report and a survey of Fellows from the years  2001-2002 to 2005-2006. The commission had the opportunity for extensive talks with the rector and Permanent Fellows. There was also opportunity to meet with Fellows of the present class.

The commission thanks the rector, the secretary, the Permanent Fellows and Matthias Bergmann for their support, for the material made available to them, and for the great candor that people brought to the talks.

In comparison with similar institutions at both the national and international level, the Wissenschaftskolleg remains a singular and outstanding institution in terms of both its quality and character. In terms of its internationality and the breadth of its vision, the Wissenschaftskolleg functions as an important model for the development of other such institutions in Germany.  

The basis of the Wissenschaftskolleg’s unparalleled success is that it is not compelled to conform with any outside standards or specifications and is therefore able to choose from among the very best scientists and scholars that the world has to offer, these in turn working on research projects of superior quality in their time at the Wissenschaftskolleg and being determined to actively engage in cross-disciplinary, cross-cultural, cross-generational and cross-gender dialogue. The Wissenschaftskolleg’s extremely thorough and even painstaking selection process brings uncompromising application of the quality principle to these and other aspects in creating inspiring Fellow “classes” every year.

There is a direct correlation between the high international reputation enjoyed by the Wissenschaftskolleg and the Fellows invited. In this respect, however, it would seem to the commission that perception of the Wissenschaftskolleg as an institution of particular excellence as well as its overall visibility is greater at the international than at the national level.

In their answers to the survey the Fellows overwhelmingly acknowledged the optimal realization of the basic idea underlying the Wissenschaftskolleg. Above all, the Wissenschaftskolleg affords Fellows the peace and quiet they need to advance their respective projects while at the same time creating occasions for intellectual exchange and scholarly dialogue. The excellence of those services that support Fellows in their time at the Wissenschaftskolleg were emphatically underscored. The commission discussed the critical remarks of individual Fellows. In its recommendations the commission addresses certain aspects that look particularly promising for the Wissenschaftskolleg’s future development and which the commission therefore believes should be strengthened. In making these recommendations the commission has in view the challenges that will arise in the coming years, namely the pending generational changes in the Wissenschaftskolleg’s staff and the increase in similar institutions, for example the possible competition posed by those establishments newly founded on the basis of the German “Exzellenzinitiative.”     

 

The commission makes the following recommendations:

  1. In the run-up to electing a rector or appointing a secretary, the commission recommends deploying search committees of which the Wissenschaftskolleg’s rector would be a member.

  2. The commission expressly encourages the Wissenschaftskolleg’s selection committees in their attempt to choose Fellows whose research projects are of the highest quality and in its more cautious policy in respect of focus groups. The commission sees the Wissenschaftskolleg as having fulfilled its agenda in the regard of having circa one-third natural scientists. In selecting them, the commission advises the Wissenschaftskolleg to make greater use of the expertise already available in Berlin; and above all, in terms of recruiting younger Fellows, the commission recommends that the Wissenschaftskolleg keep in view prospective Fellows being awarded by scholarly societies (“Fachgesellschaften”).

  3. The commission expressly welcomes the Wissenschaftskolleg’s  concrete plans to attract younger Fellows by making its offerings more flexible. In this regard, and particularly as concerns the acquisition of young female Fellows, the commission recommends that increased efforts be made. It recommends that the Wissenschaftskolleg augment its offerings with respect to childcare, making this consonant with the needs of younger Fellows through establishment of a Wiko Daycare Center. The commission encourages the Wissenschaftskolleg in its view that augmenting the institute’s offerings as well making them more flexible should only in certain exceptional cases alter the basic features of the Fellows’ presence at the institute. 

  4. The commission expressly welcomes the efforts that the Wissenschaftskolleg has undertaken to keep in contact with its alumni. But the present number of staff is insufficient in exhausting the entire potential of an alumni network, in particular in following up on alumni career paths and utilizing alumni expertise. The commission recommends expanding staff. The commission also recommends that in building up its scholarly network the Wissenschaftskolleg make greater use of the advice of Permanent Fellows.

  5. The commission supports the Wissenschaftskolleg in the moderation it exercises in its public relations, never pursuing any tack that might be detrimental to the work of Fellows.  The commission does recommend, however, that the Wissenschaftskolleg do more to organize official or semi-official meetings between Fellows and politicians and, in particular, to amplify the resonance of important future themes in the work of Fellows.  

  6. In the evaluations that will be undertaken again in five years the commission recommends further developing the survey as an instrument for gaining information, with pointed questions as to the particularly positive and negative experiences, and to conduct one survey directly after the Fellow’s stay at the Wissenschaftskolleg and a follow-up survey between four and five years afterward. In terms of the publications that Fellows list as having been achieved during their stay at the Wissenschaftskolleg, the commission would recommend that they restrict themselves to only the most important titles. 

 

Gerhart v. Graevenitz
for the Evaluation Commission

1 Juni 2010