An open letter dated 23 March 2020 supported by more than a thousand teachers at German universities set out an initiative appealing for a »non-semester«. Arguing that as it would be no longer possible to fully conduct regulated teaching activities, the petition proposed that the 2020 summer semester should not be formally counted, and fixed-term positions should be granted a contract extension for the corresponding period of time.
»This appeal is not a happy prospect in either its core or its consequences«, Prof. Speitkamp noted. »We at the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar are already doing all we can to protect the health of our students and staff, and we are working towards reopening the university once the crisis has passed. This requires a collaborative effort. A ›non-semester‹ or a ›non-university‹ is not the solution«.
Prof. Speitkamp emphasised that the University Directorate was aware of the uncertainties felt by students and of the huge pressure on teachers, who are now having to create digital teaching resources at short notice while also looking after their children and families. All of this is being taken into account.
»Teachers must be supported and students cannot suffer any disadvantages. However, students also need to know that their work is not futile, that things are continuing and that their studies will have a reasonable end point with as little time lost as possible«, Prof. Speitkamp added. This means finding creative solutions; requirements, deadlines and examination periods are being set generously and individual solutions are being implemented. »We will ask questions, offer advice and help. No-one should be forgotten. However, a ›non-semester‹ sends the wrong signal – ›now more than ever‹ is more like it. It will be new, it will be challenging, but it could be great«.
Teaching and learning methods are currently being intensively re-examined in the various faculties and in the university’s administration. Digital tools will open up new opportunities for decentralised, non-synchronous learning. This will enable learning processes and topics to be shaped in a more individual, creative and spontaneous way. Prof. Speitkamp hopes that a new university image could emerge where direct contact and classroom teaching remain important, but are enhanced with a wide range of interactive formats.
A »digital teaching« working group is currently developing ways in which students can complete the summer semester. The university is also offering assistance where required, for example if solutions need to be found for a semester on leave or for part-time studies.
Prof. Speitkamp emphasised the opportunities for university operations during the crisis: »A semester during and after the crisis cannot simply operate as if nothing has happened. The idea of a ›non-semester‹ sends the wrong message. The crisis is calling things we were previously certain of into question. We must ask new questions: What will we learn about ourselves during the crisis? Why are we so vulnerable and are we reliant on global networks? What role do researchers play as experts in the public and political worlds? How secure are our ideals of open borders and internationality? Why are our fundamental rights suddenly no longer inviolable? All of this is of vital importance for universities, art and science, and needs to be discussed and researched – in a ›now more than ever semester‹, an intensive semester«.