Finno-Ugric/Uralic studies in Hamburg endangered

Johanna Laakso johanna.laakso at
Sun Feb 17 14:17:03 UTC 2013

Dear Colleagues,

I forward Peter Sherwood's e-mail to the list, because he makes some very important points which I think we should continue discussing.

My own impression of this situation, on the basis what I have heard from Bea Wagner-Nagy, is that there are several interconnected problems:
1. The general economising and streamlining pressures which we all experience, combined with the administration's search for quantifiable criteria, which leads to counting the numbers of students and automatically putting all small disciplines into a disadvantaged position;
2. Problems in student recruitment -- also a general issue, due to the fact that "our" languages are normally not learnt at schools, few college graduates even know that our discipline exists, and it is difficult to motivate students to take up very work-intensive studies which, nevertheless, do not offer secure prospects for employment;
3. International, national and regional policies in higher education. How many departments of Finno-Ugric studies does Germany need? Are all European countries obliged to secure the teaching of all other European state languages and national philologies? Does Germany want to maintain its venerable traditions in Finno-Ugric studies? How do these national goals go together with the federal education policies of Germany, where Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg perhaps wants to demonstrate its independence... ?

But, specifically for Hamburg, there is a further problem:
4. It seems that the University of Hamburg is dealing with the situation, which of course really is problematic in many ways, in an extremely unprofessional and short-sighted manner. Instead of letting the department die out, which might have been expedient after the death of Eugen Helimski (and considering the slowly but certainly approaching retirement of the two lecturers), the university hires a new professor. Only after that, they start shutting down posts. This gives the impression that 
a. the people in charge at the university administration have not decided whether they want to have Finno-Ugric studies in Hamburg or not, 
b. they have not bothered to inform themselves of what it takes to maintain an institute which is in charge of an entire language family (for instance: that the lecturer of Finnish is probably not qualified to teach Estonian as well, or that it is not meaningful to combine the courses of Finnish and Hungarian culture), and
c. when confronted with these problems, the administration refuses constructive dialogue with the institute.
In brief, what we see here looks like bad, uninformed and unprofessional administration, pure and simple.

We can, of course, initiate an Internet petition -- and, perhaps, we should. We can also turn to the administration of the faculty and the university on our own behalf and on behalf of our institutes. Perhaps official-looking letters with round stamps would do the trick better than "cheap clicks" on the Internet? What do you think?

Univ.Prof. Dr. Johanna Laakso
Universität Wien, Institut für Europäische und Vergleichende Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaft (EVSL)
Abteilung Finno-Ugristik
Campus AAKH Spitalgasse 2-4 Hof 7
A-1090 Wien
johanna.laakso at
Project ELDIA: 

Peter Sherwood kirjoitti 16.2.2013 kello 19.53:

> Dear Johanna
> It might be best if Bea, with others, formulated a text and launched an online petition (perhaps on Aavaz or something similar, as Szeged University did recently).  I'm not sure individual letters or e-mails of protest do the trick any longer.  In fact ALL departments of FU/Uralic studies should get together and formulate a strategy arguing for the importance and relevance of the field, as these days everyone is in danger.  
> Best wishes,
> Peter Sherwood
> University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
> On 16 February 2013 12:37, Johanna Laakso <johanna.laakso at> wrote:
> Dear All,
> Beáta Wagner-Nagy asked me to forward this message to URA-LIST. To be continued...
> --
> Univ.Prof. Dr. Johanna Laakso
> Universität Wien, Institut für Europäische und Vergleichende Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaft (EVSL)
> Abteilung Finno-Ugristik
> Campus AAKH Spitalgasse 2-4 Hof 7
> A-1090 Wien
> johanna.laakso at
> Project ELDIA: 
> Välitetty viesti alkaa:
>> Lähettäjä: Beáta Wagner-Nagy <beata.wagner-nagy at>
>> Päivämäärä: 15. helmikuuta 2013 19.41.43 UTC+1.00
>> Vastaanottaja: Johanna Laakso <johanna.laakso at>
>> Vastaus: beata.wagner-nagy at
>> Kedves Johanna, 
>> megkérnélek az alábbi levél továbbítássára az uralist-re.
>> Köszönöm
>> Bea
>> The alarming developments due to the austerity measures at the University of Hamburg and its dramatic effects for the Institute of Fenno-Ugric/Uralic Studies (IFUU) would be a reason         enough to inform the scientific community about them. The IFUU shares the same fate as other small disciplines that are in danger of being shut down as an effect of the economization of the higher education sector. However, it is not this trend but rather the way these austerity measures are implemented that filled me with indignation.  
>> At the IFUU, a half-time post of a university lecturer is to be cut by the end of the winter term 2012/13. This measure is one (and maybe the last) step in a series of reductions the institute has suffered since 2005, through which its human resources have been continuously and systematically reduced. A full-time post of a university lecturer was replaced by a half-time lower ranked post (which is now cut), the employment contract of a scientific assistant was not extended, and teaching contracts were cancelled, with the effect that e.g. the teaching of the Estonian language will cease completely. In my opinion, now the point is reached where it is impossible to proceed. The whole area of study is being systematically shut down, but the university decision-makers refuse to admit this.
>> An entire discipline covering a whole language family, with both a B.A. (Fenno-Ugric / Uralic Studies) and an M.A. (Uralic Languages and Cultures) programme, must now be managed by one single university professor supported by two language course instructors only – this is the opinion of the chairperson of the Department of Languages, Literature, and         Media. Since the beginning of December 2012, the chairperson has refused any personal dialogue with me and any discussion in meetings of the department and indignantly refuses to recognize any responsibility. So does the dean of the faculty. Instead, I have been repeatedly demanded to change the curriculum so that the subject matter can be taught with radically reduced capacity. The chairperson suggested in an e-mail that this were possible by way of “polyvalent” courses, in that e.g. students specializing on Hungarian studies should attend courses in Fennic studies. Such “solutions” only testify to the ignorance of persons who in fact should represent the interests of the disciplines and stakeholder groups. 
>> In the M.A. programme Uralic Languages, the curriculum allows for two specializations, namely, linguistic and cultural studies. The specialization in cultural studies is a unique feature within Germany, increasing the attractiveness of our MA programme among prospective students. Further limitations of the curriculum would have a negative impact on student recruitment and finally lead to the closing down of the whole programme, due to lack of students.
>> The sustainability of the curriculum has been critical already since some time. Maintaining the programme has only been possible thanks to guest lecturers and language course teachers who have taken over tasks in the core subject area – with the consequence that language courses have been reduced to a minimum.
>> Moreover, the resources now given in the form of short-term posts will be lost in two years, as these work contracts will not be extended. Thus, within foreseeable time we may no more be able to guarantee that the students can take all exams included in our programme, as we cannot guarantee that the IFUU will have personnel with sufficient scholarly qualification.
>> Thus, in my view, a further „streamlining“ of the curriculum cannot be supported by any professional criteria. Promoting such ideas testifies to an ignorance which – also taking into account the style of communication which the administration of the university has displayed in this case – is simply inacceptable.
>> Beáta Wagner-Nagy 
>>  -- 
>> Prof. Dr. Beáta Wagner-Nagy
>> Institut für Finnougristik/Uralistik
>> Universität Hamburg
>> Johnsallee 35,
>> 20148 Hamburg
>> Tel: +49-40-42838-2787 (dienstl.)
>> Fax: +49-40-42838 6117
>> beata.wagner-nagy at

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