Cultural institutions have a moral responsibility, believes Leon Botstein, President of Bard College. The prominent conductor and scholar has been leading the American liberal arts college for more than forty years.
“Given the migration crisis, the question becomes that among the displaced populations, are people at an age where education makes a huge difference?" asks Botstein.
Botstein himself has experienced displacement as the son of Jewish immigrants from Europe.
“We came with our parents to the United States stateless, essentially, so I have an inherent sympathy for immigrants and refugees.”
Bard College is known for its focus on international education and social change. Apart from the U.S., it offers dual degree programs in Kyrgyzstan, Palestine, Russia, and in the German capital.
Botstein is in Berlin to raise money. Four full scholarships for Syrian students at Bard College Berlin have already been financed. Among the donors is a Berlin gallery owner, Max Hetzler.
“I am very concerned about refugees from Syria from this part of the world. Bard College is also very close to the art world, and this is obviously why I got involved. But I must say my wife is very active with refugees in Lebanon," comments the gallery owner.
Hetzler supported the scholarships for Syrian students, who will enter the Bard College Berlin undergraduate program, with $80,000 USD. These four scholarships are just the beginning, says Botstein.
“We hope to have more. We are now in discussion with various agencies, both in Europe and in the United States, to actually increase that number - perhaps to as many as twenty."
Keeping with the liberal arts college tradition, the motivation of the applicants is very important to Bard College Berlin, Botstein tells me. They hope to get students who pursue the public good in their native country or abroad.
“Even if the student has a language deficit, the context of Bard Berlin is a relatively small institution with 100 and 200 students, so the classes are very small. The ability to acquire the language rapidly is very present," Botstein explains.
The scholarship students will join undergraduates from 41 countries at Bard College Berlin. The exchange of ideas between refugee and regular students is a key element of the program, as Leon Botstein points out:
"So institutions don’t act with a conscience to questions of refugees, which are not political questions. They're questions about human existence. Then the institution is bankrupt, ethically bankrupt."