History and profile

The Otto Suhr Institute of Political Science was established in 1959. It emerged from the German Academy for Politics (Deutsche Hochschule für Politik – DhfP), which had been founded in 1920. Whereas it was originally envisioned as a Citizens’ Academy (Staatsbürgerschule), i.e. a place to instil democratic principles among the masses, it developed into the leading elite academy for politicians and journalists during the Weimar Republic.

Otto Suhr, honorary professor for Political Theory at the Free University of Berlin and director of the DhfP after WWII, re-established the Deutsche Hochschule für Politik in 1949 and integrated it into the Free University of Berlin (FU). Suhr, who was to become Governing Mayor of Berlin in 1955, believed in the democratic mandate of the academy. He wanted to achieve this mandate by educating people in political and public offices through a postgraduate programme.

However, when the DhfP was integrated into the Free University as ‘Otto Suhr Institute of Political Science’, this postgraduate programme was replaced by a full-time Diploma degree programme which directly qualified graduates for the job market.

The Otto Suhr Institute (OSI) was first set up as an interfaculty institute, having chairs in the philosophical, economic and legal departments. Over time, though, more and more chairs were established in the range of political sciences, and under the influence of people like Ernst Fraenkel, Franz Neumann and Otto Stammer, the institute developed its own scientific profile. Political science, as an autonomous discipline, was to be at the centre of research and teaching.

In the second half of the 1960s, the OSI became the hotspot of political confrontations. On the one side there were liberal thinkers, who merely wanted to reform the old system of full professorships which, in effect, made chair holders almost sacrosanct. They were faced, on the other hand, by more radical forces, who perceived the reform as the first step toward a socialist reorganisation of the university and society as a whole.

The reunification of Germany led to a restructuring of the West German academic landscape, above all in Berlin. For the Otto Suhr Institute this meant a decline in the number of professorships. Less than half of the once more than 30 chairs have remained. Nevertheless, it still is the biggest political science institute in Germany.

In the context of the Bologna process and international standardisation of university degrees, the Otto Suhr Institute introduced consecutive undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes in political science. To this day, the institute is working towards a wide range of courses that reflects the variety of political sciences. The study programme is currently undergoing a review. Apart from offering an extensive political science education in undergraduate programmes there is an ever growing number of master’s degree programmes corresponding to the institute’s core research areas of democracy and leadership, area studies, international relations and environmental studies.