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Mail from 07.10.2022

Statement of the University Management on the Conference "The I in the We

Dear University Community, Dear Colleagues,

Many of you will have followed the discussions surrounding the event planned for October 21/22, 2022, "Human Dignity - (un)touchable?" of the initiative group "The I in the We". Following a critical article in the "Volksverpetzer" blog, we are now receiving many messages expressing concern about the scientific reputation of our university in view of some of the invited speakers. In parallel, we have been asked by the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (WAZ) for a statement that will be published tomorrow (Saturday, 08.10.2022).

Today, we would like to inform the university community in advance about this controversy as well as about the attitude of the university management and justify our position in this matter.

The organizers intend to address the diversity of perspectives in science and society, the overarching question of human dignity, and the evaluation of Corona measures and vaccinations. Some of the content and some of the speakers are not likely to reflect the substantive positions of many UW/H members. However, this is true for a variety of academic events hosted by different initiatives or organizations both at our university and at other colleges and universities - where important issues are controversially discussed.

The incredibly dedicated efforts of the entire UW/H in an epi- and pandemic that has been demanding for 30 months is beyond question. In the outpatient and inpatient care of thousands of patients, our nurses and (dental) doctors performed just as extraordinarily as in the courageous conversion of the entire teaching and in the interdisciplinary construction of our test stations and our vaccination lines, with which we were able to supply a substantial part of the population of Witten.

Special emphasis should be placed on the important contributions to knowledge made by our clinical scientists and basic researchers in the Faculty of Health in close national and international cooperation parallel to all the medical and nursing care tasks. In other, simple words:

Our university has put everything it has into fighting this pandemic!

Therefore, it seems to be a pure provocation to many that a conference is organized at the UW/H in which fundamental aspects of this joint work - in all probability - are called into doubt. And it is downright intolerable that this conference is presented in the media as if it reflected the attitude of the entire university. Perhaps it is therefore understandable that several voices in the university community are being raised calling for the conference to be banned.

And yet we live in a society whose indispensable foundation includes freedom of expression; in a society that has universities that foster critical discourse and enable diversity of perspective. In the words of Voltaire, "My lord, I do not share your opinion, but I would stake my life that you should be allowed to express it."

If the university is now being accused at greater intervals of conspiracy-theory closeness, contrarian sympathies, or ideological narrow-mindedness - should that unsettle us? No! We have no reason to doubt our independence, our thirst for knowledge and our widely recognized scientific contributions to solving important tasks in civil society!

Such a controversial conference must be accompanied critically. We will only make use of an event ban if the law is violated, if personal attacks are made or if the university is abused under the guise of scientificity in order to give a stage to demonstrably refuted statements.

We are counting on the scientists and colleagues from all areas of our university who are participating in the conference to be guided by these premises.

It is a constitutionally protected task of universities to carry out the competition of ideas and perspectives in an open, lively and respectful manner. At the same time, we want to use all our energy and scientific methodological competence to help ensure that the foundation of knowledge on which our perspectives and substantive positions are based becomes broader, more sustainable and more resilient in the spirit of the Enlightenment.

Is this freedom of perspectives and opinions unlimited? No. But it should not be broader at any place of social discourse than at our colleges and universities.

Martin Butzlaff Jan Peter Nonnenkamp Jan Ehlers Dirk Jakobs Petra Thürmann