Universities in Crisis: psychological lessons From Nazi Germany

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Universities in Crisis: Psychological lessons from nazi germany Kevin Volkan, EdD, PhD, MPH Californiua State University Channel Islands World University Forum January 9, 2010 Davos, Switzerland

First of all...let's be clear. I am not equating the situation of modern universities with existence under the Nazi regime. Many terrible things happened under national Socialist rule which are in no way are similar to what is happpening today in higher education.

Nevertheless, when we look specifically at how higher education fared under the nazis it is possible to ascertain some similarities to the current situation in higher educaton.

While the situation for higher education under the Nazis was more extreme, more blunt, more disruptive, I will make the case that some characeristics have modern counterparts and that some of the same underlying group psychology is at work.

Pre-University Education Under the Nazi regime

Let's start by looking at pre-university education under the nazis. The Nazis took an interest in primary and secondary education due to its ability to indoctrinate children into Nazi ideology from an early age. Soon after taking power the Nazis began the ‘coordination’ of teachers. This was in actuality quite easy as the majority of teachers were strongly nationalistic and early supporters of the Nazi party. As with other professions, Jews, Communists, and Social Democrats were expunged from the teaching profession in 1933. By 1936, 32% of teachers were Nazi Party members and by 1937 97% of teachers belonged to the National Socialist Teacher’s Association (NSLB).

By 1939 training centers had been established for the ideological instruction of teachers through courses on subjects such as German prehistory, racial history, German folk art, and perhaps most disruptively physical education.

Bernard Rust

the Reich Ministry of Education was led by Bernard Rust, who had been dismissed from his teaching post in 1930 for molesting a girl student, and who suffered from emotional instability due to a head wound suffered in the First World War. Primary and Secondary schools were reorganized under the F端hrer (Leader) Principle, whereby faculty and staff were expected to follow orders from above and had little say in the governance of their institutions. Curricula de-emphasised purely intellectual pursuits. Physical education was expanded to 5 hours per week, and German, history, Literature, and biology were studied from the viewpoint of racial ideology. as might be expected this was used to indoctrinate students into racism, the need for racial purity, and racial identification.

Students increasingly were required to be involved with the Hitler Youth which had many, mostly physical, activities outside of school. The scope of these activities increased to the point where they interfered with students’ schoolwork and prevented students from going to class. Hitler Youth leaders also undermined the authority of their teachers.

The result of these changes was in a steep decline in educational quality. The army complained that officer candidates lacked basic knowledge and university professors complained (as they do now) of the poor quality of academic skills and knowledge of incoming students.

The Nazis also established specialized schools. The National Political Educational Institutions (Napolas), Adolf Hitler Schools, and Ordenburgen (Castles of the Knightly Order) were to train future Nazi elite. Also envisioned was a Nazi university that Ordensburgen graduates would attend, but this never got beyond the planning stages. In each of these schools the educational curriculum was focused on Nazi ideology and physical training.

Universities Under the Nazis

Before the Nazi era Germany had one of the most highly regarded university systems in the world. Universities in many other places, including the U.S., were modeled after German universities.

However, while serving as beacons of knowledge, German universities also upheld an elite Prussian sensibility, with a rigid, imperious, and hierarchical structure.

The university system in Germany went through traumatic upheaval after the Nazis came to power. Many of Those who worked and studied in German universities tended to be nationalistic and viewed the Weimar Republic with contempt. With this sort of background the Nazis had little trouble ‘coordinating’ universities in Germany.

The German university system was reorganized under Rust’s Education Ministry. German universities had been known for a strong system of self-governance in which faculty representatives had a large say in the running of the university and in decisions made by university leaders.

Under Rust this was eliminated and the universities reorganized under the 'Fßhrer Prinzip', where the rector unilaterally made all decisions or delegated them to those beneath him. There was no more appeal or consultation regarding the operation or direction of the university. Rectors were now appointed by the Education Ministry with the main qualification being how loyal they were to Nazi ideology and how politically reliable they were. Faculty still made recommendations on academic appointments, but Appointments were decided on the basis of the candidate’s adherence to Nazi ideology as well as his racial qualities.

Rector of Freiburg University, Martin Heidegger

Early in the Nazi era so-called racially and/or politically unfit individuals were purged from public positions. Educational institutions were not exempt and many, mostly Jewish, Communist, and Social Democratic, faculty and administrators were fired from their positions.

approximately 15% of faculty were dismissed including prominent physicists such as Albert Einstein, theologian Karl Barth, and philosopher karl Jaspers. some areas of academia such as the natural sciences were hit especially hard. Many Faculty were also not shy in denouncing colleagues who did not support the Nazis.

Philosopher Karl Jaspers, whose wife was jewish, was prevented from teaching in germany. After the war he helped to rebuild the University of Heidelberg.

Because of these purges Germany experienced a ‘brain drain’, losing a number important academicians and scientists. Germany’s scientific preeminence was severely damaged by these purges and this eventually had a negative effect on university-based weapons research. However, applied weapons research migrated to non-university entities such as private corporations where it was was more successful.

Some faculty really got on the Nazi bandwagon, attempting to create ‘Germanized’ versions of their fields. This was especially true in fields such as physics that attempted to meld Nazi political ideology with scientific inquiry. For instance, Philipp Lenard and Johannes Stark created an ‘Aryan’ physics as a Nazi alternative to the relativistic physics of Albert Einstein and the newly emerging branch of physics called quantum mechanics . Lenard, an experimental physicist with a Nobel Prize, considered the more theoretical areas of physics ‘Jewish’.

Philipp Lenard receiving an honoray degree from the uniersity of heidelberg.

Historians such as Walter Frank created a view of history in line with Nazi ideology (Evans, 2005). Kurt Gauger, a non-practicing physician, denounced Freud’s theories in a 1934 paper delivered to the Medical Congress for Psychotherapy and later published in a journal of ‘political medicine’. Gauger favored the psychological theories of Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung, who had broken with Freud and established his own form of psychoanalysis. Jung’s theories were especially attractive to the Nazis because of his concepts of the collective unconscious and archetypes that could be used to justify Nazi ideas about a German type and a German spirit or ‘volk’ .

Carl Jung

Biology and medicine were inundated with pseudo-scientific racial theories that were popular with the Nazi regime (many of these theories originated in the U.S.). As Hans Lohr, the medical director of the University of Kiel wrote, “The national Socialist physician has the holy obligation to the state not merely to induce patients with congenital diseases to undergo voluntary sterilization, but also to report such cases to the authorities…Adolf Hitler and his associates have shown the way to the German medical profession”. (Mosse, 2003, p. 91).

In its extreme, support for these racial theories was derived from crude and unscientific experiments conducted on concentration camp prisoners that were commissioned by university-affiliated research institutions.

Nazi physician Carl Clauberg (left) performed sterilization experiments on prisoners in Auschwitz. He held a professorship in gynecology at the University of Königsberg.

Faculty members under the Nazis were expected to teach Nazi ideology. they were required to take a six-week course at a camp run by the Nazi Socialist Lecturer’s Association. Professors were then expected to work Nazi ideology into their courses of study. Most academics outwardly conformed to this policy but maintained their traditional scholarship just the same. Many faculty made the socalled 'internal migration' keeping their heads down and concentrating on narrowly focused esoteric research that would not arouse nazi suspicion.

Students were also early supporters of the Nazis, though their disillusionment eventually paralleled that of their professors. At first newly empowered student groups were antagonistic towards education. Later, the allure of the antiintellectual Nazis waned.

Pro-Nazi University students gathering

Overall, the number of students attending the university dropped precipitously during the Nazi regime. This was due to the lack of job prospects for graduates of many majors, the large number of young men who volunteered or who were required to join the military, and from Nazi policies which severely restricted higher education opportunities for women.

Education as a whole suffered greatly during the Nazi regime in Germany. In general this stemmed from the strong anti-intellectual strain of National Socialism and from Hitler’s dislike of his own educational experiences. Intellectual pursuits were not seen as a way towards the Nazi worldview. As Deputy Führer Rudolph Hess put it in a 1934 speech: “Do not seek Adolf Hitler with your mind. You will find him through the strength of your hearts!”

the most important change in higher education was the introduction of the F端hrer Principle of leadership. This had the effect of instituting top-down leadership. Ultimately all leaders were responsible to the F端hrer Adolf Hitler. Leaders whose decisions were in line with Hitler's were rewarded. This led to an extreme loss of autonomy for those working in universities. Educational decisions about curricula, subjects to be taught, teaching methods etc., were made by Nazi politicians rather than by faculty, who then passed this down to their students without question or rational critique. Not surprisingly, Nazi ideals very quickly were echoed from kindergarten through the university.

The combination of authoritarian and often paranoid leadership, and the lack of autonomy in universities under the Nazis are reminiscent of the kind of group pathology outlined by Bion (1961). In general, groups can be understood as having a “collective mind” which is different and at the same time more primitive than the mind of an individual. Perfectly rational and normal people may regress and behave in counterproductive and even pathological ways when they are part of a group. Their rational conscious mind gets ‘lost’ in a group and is replaced by the largely unconscious group mind. This unconscious group mind is held together by the fantasies and wishes of the group members as well as their identification with the group leader and each other. This has the effect of diminishing rational intellectual processes and increasing emotional responses. Sentiments and emotional responses are highly contagious in group settings. This is especially the case in relatively homogenous, isolated groups in times of stress and upheaval.

W. R. Bion

Group Pathology in Nazi Universities

Bion explained that three types of group structures could appear during periods of stress and turmoil: dependency, fight/flight, or pairing Dependency group members perceived themselves as weak and inadequate to the task of the group. They therefore, choose a group leader who appears to have all the competencies they are missing. Often times this leader is narcissistic, presenting him or her self as omnipotent and infallible. Group members idealize this leader and blindly follow him or her. They are bound together by their neediness. Fight/flight groups are characterized by an esprit-de-corp among members that is reinforced by a real or imagined threat or enemy outside the group. Differences among group members must be put aside in order to deal with this external threat. These types of groups share a common ideology. Typically this type of group does not tolerate any deviation from the group ideology. The leader of the fight/flight group is typically somewhat paranoid which feeds into the group members need to face a common enemy. The pairing group is held together by the projection of the group members’ needs on to a leader. The sexuality of the leader (often a couple) gives a sense of love that protects group members from external threats. However, this love can become erotized for group members so that being in the group becomes more important than accomplishing the task of the group. This can make the group very inefficient.

SS Totenkopf Honour Ring

While Bion’s work looked at small group processes, others such as Kernberg have found these types of groups in larger settings as well. An important thing to remember is that groups will often be a mixture of the three types and shift from one type of group to another. In the case of universities under the Nazi regime it is clear that dependency and fight/Flight types of groups predominated. There may have also been some characteristics of pairing groups as well. Although we would have to speculate on the nature of the eroticism. However, Nazi university workers, like university employees everywhere, typically obtain pleasure from being part of a larger, high status group, and this can affect their work to the point of causing inefficiency. In general, the development of group pathology among universities was a microcosm of group pathology in Nazi society in general.

This pathological group psychology can lead to certain types of organizational charactericstics which were exemplified in Nazi Universites.

The first of these characteristics relates to the lack of bounded rationality. As Gigerenzer, (2001) says, Unbounded rationality encompasses decision-making strategies that have little or no regard for constraints in time, knowledge, and computational capacities that real humans face. (p. 38) This can be seen when a leader is deluded into thinking that they can foresee all possible contingencies that will affect the group. There are no backup plans, as the narcissism of the leader does not allow for the possibility of failure or realistic assessment of the situation. When original plans do not work out, rather than switch to a backup plan, there are abrupt shifts as the leader tries other solutions, almost at random. This kind of situation can undermine the seeming omnipotence of the leader causing group members to discount leadership decisions and to fight amongst themselves.

The Nazi education minister Bernhard Rust exemplified this phenomenon. He was notorious for issuing proclamations and then shortly thereafter rescinding them when it was pointed out that they couldn’t possibly be implemented. Rust would make plans based on some ideological principle without regard to its effect. When his decision backfired he would change his mind. Rust quickly lost credibility among workers in the Nazi universities who learned to ignore him. They even came up with a term – the ‘Rust’ to describe the time between the issuing of a decree and its retraction (Evans, 2005, p. 291)

Another characteristic which is related to group psychopathology is 'groupThink'. This concept, originally coined by Janis (1982), is where the norm for consensus overrides a realistic appraisal of different courses of action. It usually develops in small homogeneous groups made up of people from similar backgrounds that have worked together for a long period of time, though it can apply to large groups and mass movements as well. Those involved in groupthink can develop an artificial kind of consensus where everyone in a group sees the world exactly the same way, disallowing innovation or contrary evidence. Those who are outside the group, or who express differences in opinion from the group majority are devalued.

Groupthink was rampant at all levels in Nazi Germany and the university was no exception. Many of the examples already outlined above, for instance of entire fields of study being subjugated to a simplistic, unscientific, and irrational racial ideology, can be seen as instances of groupthink. Another expression of groupthink that permeated Nazi Germany and nazi Universities was the 'F端hrer Prinzip' (leader principle). The relationship between the F端hrer Prinzip and groupthink is demonstrated by this quote from a speech by Rudolf Hess in 1934: "It is with pride that we see that one man is kept above all criticism-that is the Fuehrer. The reason is that everyone feels and knows: he was always right and will always be right... We believe that the Fuehrer is fulfilling a divine mission to German destiny! This belief is beyond challenge."

Modern Correlates of Nazi Universities Are American universities in a situation akin to universities during the Nazi regime? The short answer is no…and yes. University employees (or at least the ones left after the purges) did pretty well under the Nazis, and did as well or better than most ordinary people. The same is true for modern universities in the U.S. While higher education as a whole is under siege, individual academics (at least among the tenure track faculty) are still doing relatively well. And it is important to remember in U.S. universities there are no overt purges of academics by racial categories, no political murders, or trains leaving for camps...

So what are the lessons we can learn from universities under the Nazi regime? In both the Nazi era and for current U.S universities there are similar problems. In both situations.... there is ideological criticism from the political right-wing. Including student right-wing groups as well as from rightwing pundits.

Republican alumnus Andrew Jones offers cash to students who inform on left-wing professors

David horowitz - Conservative critic of the professoriate

There is an increase in central authority and its attendant bureaucracy.

Universities are being run like businesses with more centralized management. this new version of the 'F端hrer Prinzip' is on the ascendence due to loss of funding..

There is a focus on military research...

Although overt racial discrimination is not usually seen, woman and minority faculty lag in mumbers of faculty, pay, and tenure status when compared to their white male counterparts (Allen, et. al., 2000, Antonio, 2002, Ginther & Hayes, 1999, Price et al., 2005, Rush, 1987).

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (“The Faculty of the Future,� 2009) examined the vision of seven scholars of higher education with regard to the future of academia. While none of their visions were as dire as universities under the Nazis, the prediction of less autonomy among a largely insecure, underpaid workforce in the majority of institutions of higher education is telling. This workforce will toil away in large classes, largely directed from above by a few tenured faculty and professional administrators providing an education that is vocationally focused, augmented by online courses.

For university administrators and faculty the question will be how to maintain their autonomy while relying some type of centralized authority for funding.

Moving Towards some solutions...? This is all very depressing...so what can be done? Here are some tentative overarching solutions which may be helpful....

Secondly, we need to counteract tendecies toward the F端hrer Prinzip through 'bottomup' solutions to university organizational issues.

Third, we need to advocate for less bureaucracy both within the university, the government, and acceditation oversight. Accreditation agencies should play a consultative role instead of acting as gatekeepers. Concurrently we need to advocate for more local autonomy, even for universities that are part of large public systems.

Fourth, universities need to be diverse, not only in composition of faculty but in ideas. Some progress has been made, but more work needs to be done. Academic freedom is under threat and faculty and administrators have become complacent about this.

As The Existentialist Anti-Nazi German philosopher karl Jaspers, writing from the University of Heidelberg just after the end of WWII, said; "Stripped of its ideal the university loses all value. Yet "institution" necessarily implies compromises. The idea is never perfectly realized. Because of this a permanent state of tension exists at the university between the idea and the shortcomings of the institutional and corporate reality." IT is up to us to nourish the ideal of the university even in times of extreme compromise and short-comings.

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