University drops reference to emperor, region in new name

The senate of what is officially referred to as Westphalian Wilhelm University has decided to delete the name of Germany’s last emperor and call itself University of Münster. North Rhine-Westphalia’s Ministry of Culture and Science is expected to approve the new name.

Officially founded by Franz Baron von Fürstenberg as a university in 1780, Münster’s Vicecancellarius Universitatis was converted to an academy in 1818 but was returned its university status by Emperor Wilhelm II in 1902 and awarded its present title by royal cabinet order in 1907.

No living tradition

The senate of the university, which is now one of Germany’s largest higher education institutions, argues that unlike with Von Fürstenberg, there is no living tradition that would link the institution with its present name-giver, Emperor Wilhelm II, and that the latter provided neither non-material nor financial support for the institution.

The tag ‘Westphalian’ will also be dropped. When the university was given its present title, it was the only university in what was then the Prussian province of Westphalia and remained the region’s only university until into the 1950s. But since then, several further universities have been founded in Westphalia.

In addition, the senate argues, Münster can now boast a substantial share of international students, which would further render restricting its role to the region superfluous.

Wilhelm II was German Emperor from 1888 to 1918. He is reputed to have been an anti-Semite, a staunch advocate of colonialism and opposed to democracy.

The decision to remove his name from the title of the university had already been initiated by the student union in 2018, and the decision in the senate was taken unanimously, the general feeling being that ‘Wilhelm II’ was untenable for a modern, enlightened university.

Dealing with identity

“The name ‘University of Münster’ is by no means the smallest common denominator but a positive full name which all members of the university can back,” said senate chair Dr Hinnerk Wißmann, but stressed that renaming is not the final word. “Dealing with our identity, of which Wilhelm II is a part, will continue to be an important task for the university.”

Welcoming the senate’s decision to rename, the University of Münster’s vice-chancellor announced that it would be swiftly implemented at minimum cost.

The University of Bonn, also in North Rhine-Westphalia, and founded in 1818, is officially named Rhenish Friedrich-Wilhelms University, after Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III.

Friedrich-Wilhelms University of Berlin was founded by the Prussian king in 1810, on the initiative of Alexander von Humboldt, whose name it was given on its reopening in 1949.

The University of Breslau, in Silesia, then part of Germany, was also named after Friedrich Wilhelm III from 1911 to 1945, when it was replaced by Poland’s University of Wroclaw.

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