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Academic ‘solidarity’ needed to save gender studies from far-right, warns German judge

Academics should show more “solidarity” towards colleagues working in subjects such as gender studies, one of Germany’s constitutional court judges has warned.

This comes as the field has come under increasing fire from far-right populists.

Susanne Baer, also a professor of public law and gender studies at the Humboldt University of Berlin, said that some academics had “underestimated” the threat.

She suggested that attacks on these subjects would be the first step in a broader political assault on academia.

Speaking at the online event “Freedom of Expression: On the Culture of Debate at Universities”, Professor Baer said: “Those early attacks on, say, gender studies or queer theory or critical race studies, are attacks against all of us.

“These are attacks from a script. And that script says: start with the weakest portion of the institution. Then gradually expand into the more mainstream and strong [fields].”

She suggested that the erosion of universities and liberal democracy would not start with attacks on law schools, “but it will start with queer theory at a law school”.

Gender studies has become a battleground. In the last five years, it has developed from a peripheral concern to a central topic for those who purport to defend European Christian civilisation.

– Massimo Prearo, political studies researcher at the University of Verona 

She added: “In the past, there has not been that outcry right from the start when our weaker colleagues were under pressure. And that should be one strong reaction.”

According to Massimo Prearo, a political studies researcher at the University of Verona: “Gender studies has become a battleground. In the last five years, it has developed from a peripheral concern to a central topic for those who purport to defend European Christian civilisation.”

In the 2017 German federal election, far-right party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) pledged to discontinue all gender studies funding, university appointments and research.

According to the party’s manifesto: “Gender research does not meet the claim to reputable research. Its methods do not fulfil the criteria of science, as its objectives are primarily politically motivated.”

Germany is not the only country where gender studies have proven controversial.

The subject was banned outright in Hungary in 2019.

At the time, the country’s deputy prime minister, Zsolt Semjen, said that gender studies “has no business in universities”, stating that “it is an ideology, not a science”.

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