In publica commoda

Freedom from censorship

The Georg-August Universität Göttingen follows in the tradition of the Enlightenment. A specialty of its constitution is the freedom from censorship as held in writing for the first time in the foundation privilege dated December 7, 1736, according to which the academic teachers at the Georgia Augusta “are to have complete and unlimited freedom, access and right to teach publicly and specially for all eternity”. The University of Halle (founded in 1694) already possessed a similar privilege, but it was only valid for the professors in ordinary. The guaranty of freedom of teaching for all professors meant, in comparison, considerable progress, but it did mean that the state gave up one of its instruments of control.

Freedom from censorship was reflected in the set up of the Georgia Augusta by the fact that the theological faculty, which was superordinate to the other three faculties in other universities, forfeited this precedence in Göttingen. For the professors in Göttingen, this freedom meant a considerable increase in responsibility on the one hand, but at the same time, they had to personally represent their teachings in front of the scientific public and society in the broader sense. The Göttingen privilege was an important step towards our modern and extensive freedom of teaching and research with the accompanying responsibility of the scientists.

Doubts must be allowed, however, if Gerlach Adolph, Baron of Münchhausen, the actual founder of the university, already had freedom from censorship as we know it today in mind. In addition, the professors carried out a strictly observed self-censorship, in order not to incur – despite all the privileges – the threatening displeasure of the secret councils in Hanover. They also held offices according to the specific terms of the foundation privilege as censors for all non-university printed products in Göttingen: “The academy [meaning the University] should see to it that nothing leaves the printing press which is not subject to censorship. But even the professors, who are not subject to foreign censorship, should be all the more careful as is proper, that nothing is brought amongst the people, for which they could not account before the secret council of the illustrious King.” Disputes, programs and other university writings had to be submitted to the office of the secret council. There were also always disputes regarding competence amongst the professors and interventions by the government in teaching and research.

(Bearbeitete Zusammenfassung aus: Hunger, Ulrich: Die Georgia Augusta als hannoversche Landesuniversität. Von der Gründung bis zum Ende des Königreichs, in: Böhme, Ernst u. Vierhaus, Rudolf (Hg.): Göttingen. Geschichte einer Universitätsstadt Bd. 2: Vom Dreißigjährigen Krieg bis zum Anschluss an Preußen. Der Wiederaufstieg als Universitätsstadt (1648-1866), Göttingen 2002, S. 139-213, hier 148ff.)