By Makenna Stevens and Jake Camarena – Kleve, Germany
“I was honored that someone could have such a crazy idea of asking me to return from my retirement to the university life, but I am a scientist and I like university, “ said interim President, Dr. Eberhard Menzel. “I like this university. It is an unbelievable university.”
Interim President Dr. Eberhard Menzel answered questions ranging in subject from philosophical queries to the future of the university Wednesday, December 19, 2018 during the “Meet the President!” event hosted by the General Student Committee (AStA) PR Department.
The interim president addressed many concerns students raised over issues such as housing, finance, international enrollment and climate change. Menzel says he has over 20 years experience in university management, and he will perform the role of president for a short time.
“I can only do this for a couple of months,” said Menzel, but later said up to 2 years. “I have a lot of plans in my mind of what to do. There may be someone after me that will guide the university in a completely different way than me. From that point-of-view there is a challenge.”
Though Menzel says he has yet to fully read the state of North Rhein-Westphalia’s (NRW) new Higher Education Act (Das Hochschulzukunftsgesetz (HZG))–the amendment documents that will provide the new legal framework for studies and teaching policy in NRW. HZG will be updated this year from the ruling October 2014 framework, according to the new NRW Minister of Science Isabell Pfeiffer-Poensgen–he says he approves some of the proposed amendments to the 2014 ruling policy, such as giving universities the right to implement mandatory attendance if they so choose. Menzel also says young universities, such as Hochschule Rhein-Waal (HSRW), are where institutional change can come true.
“In new universities you can realize whatever you had in terms of dreams of implementing into a new university,” Menzel said. “Old universities like 30, 40, 50 years old, they are really slow and steady tankers. You can’t really steer them. You just look how they pass through the water.”
Menzel says that if international students specifically need help, they should first seek answers from professors. Every faculty has a professor tasked with addressing student needs.
“There are certain persons within each faculty that have nothing but the task to talk to students,” Menzel said. “They are link professors. If they cannot help, you go to the study dean. Then if they cannot help you, then come to me, except when I am in the room talking to somebody else.”
Menzel says that in order to schedule a meeting with him, students should ask one or two days in advance. He says that he knows there are students with problems. Those students should seek help.
“My door is open to StuPa, AStA, whoever,” Menzel said. “Ask for an appointment and we can arrange that. I have been in two universities, and never has my calendar been as busy as this one now.”
On housing issues, Menzel says that he has some experience in the past implementing university housing. He spoke of solutions that were in the works.
“We were not successful in setting up student housing [in the past], but [through that experience], I got to learn some people who build student lodging,” Menzel said. “They do that for a rather reasonable price.”
He says the student housing issues are definitely being addressed. According the Menzel, he met with the Landrat, the local government office that handles university housing budgets.
“I am meeting with others too,” Menzel said. “I think there is room for investors who invest in student housing.”
HSRW financial priorities account for nearly a hundred million euros per year, according to Menzel. The university administration spends money in a few ways, mostly for personnel, rent and maintenance.
“The most money that a university has, we have something like 56 million euro a year, goes into financing personnel, Menzel said. “The professors, academic stuff. We have to pay rent for all buildings. This is a fixed amount we pay to a company owned by the state. That is where we are sending the second largest part of the money to.”
The next financial spending segment is miscellaneous. It includes maintenance, regulating building temperatures and additional, recent rents. He says he hopes to assist the university purchase lecture halls.
“We have to pay for electrics, heating, cooling and such, and all additional buildings that we have moved into in the last couple of weeks, and we hope to extend facilities even more by buying buildings like lecture halls,” said Menzel, while gesturing toward the Audimax Building.”
Within the funding budget, there are opportunities to receive institutional grants for a student project. There are two categories for HSRW student grants, centralized and decentralized. The decentralized grants enhance the student body and centralized grants enhance each faculty.
“Student Projects that can impact the image of the university, there is money outside ASTA and FSR for quality improvement funds, “Menzel said. “Students can apply to QVM. That can be done via faculties.”
The smallest budget total is allocated to student projects and faculties. It is a performance based budget plan.
“We spend 8 to 10 million on faculties,” Menzel said. “I distribute basic funding and funding based on a performance budget for research and for a number of students.”
Menzel says that he advocates for more practical, applied experiences at applied universities. He also says that students should get more involved in the student government organizations.
Menzel is a member of the European Institute for Climate and Energy (EIKE), a German based internationally politically-active think tank, advisory board. Its webpage claims that the term “climate protection” is “meaningless” and that the International Committee on Climate Change (IPCC) is a propaganda tool.
“The aim [of the IPCC] was and is to provide national governments with the propagandistic basis for drastic changes in their energy and fiscal policies,” the EIKE website states.
HSRW offers such majors as Sustainable Agriculture and Sustainable Development Management. In fact, many faculties discuss the human impact on climate and the previous president launched a “2017 to 2022 Strategic Development Plan” that included two top priorities–to be a leader in sustainability and internationality throughout Germany.
Climate change is a geo-political debate, but it is also a near scientific certainty based on billions of euros spent in research. According to Menzel, the scientific community evidence on climate change is not conclusive.
“The relation between CO2 and climate is not evident,” Menzel said. “But this is not why I’m here. It is simply my hobby, work from my project.”
There are more than 7,000 students and hundreds of faculty members at HSRW. However, 17 people were present at the Meet the President event, and a Facebook live stream kept those not present up to date on everything as it happened.
The new Chair of AStA, Hassan Wehbe led the discussion in the Senate Room. Johanna Lichtschlag, a STUPA member and fifth semester International Relations student attended the meeting.
“He seems very approachable, “ said Lichtschlag, about Menzel. “He understands student Issues. It seems like he will actually follow up on our questions; he’ll research and respond.”
Menzel says that the Winterball had amazed him. Winterball is a student lead initiative that brings thousands of students and staff together each year to celebrate. Menzel says that he wants to make sure that when the student organizers leave the university, the event continues to happen.
“Everything is so perfect,” Menzel said. “We should not lose [Winterball].”
Menzel offered advice for the next university president. He says that a large part of being the president is to wait and watch change happen first.
“Before anybody changes anything at the university that has been growing for more than 9 years now, you should really try to understand it,” Menzel said. “You need a year or even more to understand a university.”
Menzel says that he hopes in his time as interim president, the university will be able to find someone with the same passion for the position as he does. The university has many unique selling points, Menzel says, but leading it will be a challenge for the incoming president.
“I’m sixty-nine,” Menzel said. “ I think I deserve my retirement.”
Facebook live video stream here: HSRW AStA Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/asta.hsrw/videos/779392245747534/
Menzel EIKE Fachbeirat Advisory Board here: https://web.archive.org/web/20161231082057/https://www.eike-klima-energie.eu/ueber-uns/fachbeirat/