Academic journal article Management Revue

German Universities as State-Sponsored Co-Operatives**

Academic journal article Management Revue

German Universities as State-Sponsored Co-Operatives**

Article excerpt

Most universities in Germany are public firms but they have many properties of co-operatives. The most important thereof are described and analysed together with the characteristics of state-sponsorship. The real companions of the university as a cooperation are its professors. The same is true for the faculty level, perhaps even more so. However, especially the students are also organised in a co-operative form as are the representatives of all membership groups together. The state is making some crucial reforms that transform this university model or may even destroy it. In any case, the change is slow, painful and open-ended.

Key words: Co-operative, Incentive, Professor, Reform, Tenure, University

1. Introduction

Most universities in Germany1 and also in some other, especially European countries can be characterised as state-sponsored co-operatives.2 Legally, these universities are not co-operatives, of course, but public firms mostly run by the German Lander (states). Factually, however, they work or at least until recently worked as cooperatives3 with some peculiarities like being financed by the state and having a nondistribution constraint as non-profits. Thus, these universities are quite hybrid organisations. The interplay of their different characteristics will be analysed in the following with a special emphasis on their character as co-operatives getting most of their money from the state.4

In the next section, the German universities will be described with an emphasis on their co-operative character at the level of the professors. The third section looks at the impact of tenure for professors, at their remaining incentives without the risk of lay-offs or pay-cuts and at the importance of their abilities and intrinsic motivation. section four broadens the perspective by including the other membership groups of universities, the untenured academic staff, non-academic employees and students. In section five the current reforms of the university system by the state are considered. Section six is a short conclusion.

2. Universities as co-operatives of professors

In this article, universities are taken as co-operatives but the associates of such cooperatives do not include all members of the universities to the same degree. The most important group are the tenured professors building a co-operative of their own in a way. Especially their rights and freedoms are protected by the freedom of research and teaching guaranteed in article 5 of the Gnmdgesetz (constitutional law). At least, this is the interpretation of the BundesverfassMngsgericbf (federal constitutional court, the most senior court in Germany) by which the professors must have a majority in academic affairs. They select new associates by themselves, hire and potentially fire other academics and have, at least together, much power over all other employees of the university and the students as its further members. Thus, the university as a whole is anything but an equitable co-operative, it is very hierarchical with unequal rights.5 Nevertheless, at the level of tenured professors it resembles more or less a co-operative with equal rights. For instance, every professor has one vote in meetings or at least in electing professors' representatives, the accumulation of votes is not possible. The leaders of universities are mostly professors and are elected by their colleagues. In a way, a university can be compared to an ancient Greek polis with a strong democracy and many rights for a small segment of society, namely the free, often land-owning males of a certain age, whereas all other people like women, strangers, young men or slaves had much less or none rights at all.

This last point that all other groups have virtually no rights is not completely true for non-professors at German universities. Since the 1960s at the latest, all groups have been represented at decision-making bodies. Besides the professors, these groups are the other, mostly untenured academics who are not professors, the non-academic workers like administrators, secretaries and housekeepers and last but not least the students. …

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