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Weiler named president of new European university
STANFORD -- Hans N. Weiler, professor of education and political science and director of Stanford's Center for European Studies, has been elected the first rektor (president) of the new European university "Viadrina" at Frankfurt/Oder, in what used to be East Germany.
Weiler was nominated for the post by the Founding Senate of the European University, an international body of scholars and university administrators, and elected Oct. 14 by the newly constituted University Council, which consists of representatives of the university's professors, staff and students.
Weiler, the only candidate nominated for the post, has been actively involved in the development of the university since summer 1991. He has been a member of the new university's planning committee.
Weiler, who was educated at the universities of Frankfurt/Main, London and Freiburg, first attracted the senate's attention because of work (funded by the Spencer Foundation) on the transformation of education in the former East Germany. He has studied various aspects of the relationship between education and politics in settings around the world.
"Initially, they were interested in me because I was knowledgeable about German education without being German," Weiler said. "I have the credibility of an outside observer along with the credibility of an insider. Moreover, I was neither West German nor East German." (Weiler has been an American citizen since 1983.)
Weiler said he was "well acquainted" with the challenges of the new post - hardships resulting from the poor economic and financial condition of eastern Germany and the lack of adequate space in a city that still shows the scars of World War II.
The university, which now enrolls about a thousand students, is currently holding classes in movie theaters and parish halls. The university's library is housed at three different sites, two of them abandoned Soviet barracks.
However, Weiler said the more important difficulties involve "living up to both the international mission and the interdisciplinary reform concept of the new university at a time when nationalism is on the rise in Germany, and when innovation in higher education has given way to the mere cloning of the traditional West German system in eastern Germany."
The "international mission," according to Weiler, concerns the "aspiration to establish a connection between Eastern and Western Europe - Poland and Germany, in particular."
Frankfurt/Oder and the university are located on the river Oder, which now marks the boundary between Germany and Poland. The university, which will ultimately enroll 4,200 students, has been given a special mandate for serving as an intellectual meeting ground between Eastern and Western Europe. The first cohort of students is two-thirds German and one-third Polish. In the first round of examinations, said Weiler, the Polish students did significantly better than their German peers.
The university is one of three new universities created after the unification of Germany in Brandenburg, one of five federal states in the former German Democratic Republic.
According to Weiler, the university resumes the tradition of an institution of higher learning that existed at Frankfurt/Oder from the beginning of the sixteenth century through 1812.
Weiler said that "the old 'Viadrina' counted among its students some of the distinguished humanists of the time, including Ulrich von Hutten, whose writings inspired the unofficial Stanford motto, "Die Luft der Freiheit weht" (the wind of freedom blows).
Weiler, who has been on the Stanford faculty since 1965 and will be taking early retirement from Stanford next year, will return to Stanford as a professor emeritus of education and political science in 1997.
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