A researcher would like to give a lecture on sex and gender at Humboldt University. There is resistance, the university cancels the lecture. Now the anger is great.

The cancellation of a lecture on the subject of sex and gender at the Humboldt University in Berlin (HU) has sparked a heated debate.

The university has done academic freedom a disservice, said the President of the German University Association, Bernhard Kempen, to the German Press Agency. “Instead, she should have shown her backbone and done everything to ensure that the lecture could take place,” says Kempen.

After the announcement of protests, the university canceled the lecture by biologist Marie-Luise Vollbrecht, which was to be held during the Long Night of Science last Saturday. The title of the lecture was “Gender is not (gender)gender, sex, gender and why there are two genders in biology”. Opponents of the cancellation criticize the decision as giving in and violating academic freedom. Other voices find the biologist’s statements problematic in the gender debate.

“Science thrives on freedom and debate,” said Minister of Science Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP) of the “Bild” newspaper at the weekend. “Everyone has to put up with it. It must not be in the hands of activists which positions may be heard and which not.”

HU wants to organize panel discussion

According to spokesman Boris Nitzsche, Humboldt University now wants to hold a panel discussion on July 14, to which Stark-Watzinger and Berlin’s Senator for Science, Ulrike Gote (Greens), are also to be invited. The RBB had previously reported on the new date. “The main question for us is: How can we guarantee academic freedom? How do universities and politicians have to position themselves for this?” says Nitzsche. The lecture should be taken up, contextualized and discussed.

It was all about safety, he said, referring to the cancellation. “After asking the police, we canceled the event because we feared the situation would escalate. A demonstration and a counter-demonstration were announced,” said the spokesman. It must be possible for controversial people to give lectures. “Universities are currently not well positioned to handle such situations,” says Nitzsche.

To justify the rejection with security concerns is an absolute impertinence, criticized the linguist Anatol Stefanowitsch (“A question of morality: why we need politically correct language”) on Twitter. She alleges violence. In reality, the university management or those commissioned with the planning “first slept during the program design and then tried” to “hastily and with great intellectual and organizational cowardice to get rid of the problem they had created themselves”.

The group “Working Group of Critical Lawyers” had called for a protest. Vollbrecht’s statement that there are only two genders in biology was “unscientific”, “inhuman” and “anti-queer and trans*”, according to a statement.

Find the lecture on Youtube

Vollbrecht’s lecture can be found on YouTube and had around 50,000 hits on Monday afternoon. In it, the researcher explains why, in her opinion, there are only two biological sexes and that biological sex should be distinguished from social sex (gender). She didn’t want anything bad for anyone, said Vollbrecht in the “RBB-Abendschau”. “I’ve always said: It’s all about biology. It’s not about politics or opinions outside the university.”

Universities are places of intellectual debate, according to University Association President Kempen. “Every scientist must be able to put their research results, theses and views up for discussion without fear.” Differences to those who think differently are to be settled in argumentative disputes. “Boycott, bashing, bullying or even violence must not be successful.”

Vollbrecht was criticized along with other authors in June. In a “Welt” article, you wrote critically about public service broadcasting, where in your opinion it was “denied” that “there are only two sexes”. The post also said children were “indoctrinated” and “intensely sexualized.”

At the weekend, HU spokeswoman Birgit Mangelsdorf explained to “faz.net” that the “opinions” that Vollbrecht represented in the article were not in line with the HU’s mission statement and the values ​​it represents. “We therefore expressly distance ourselves from the article and the opinions expressed in it,” said Mangelsdorf. Spokesman Nitzsche said on Monday that the decision to cancel the lecture had nothing to do with the controversial article in the “Welt”.