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ETH Life - wissen was laeuft ETH Life - wissen was laeuft

ETH - Eidgenoessische Technische Hochschule Zuerich - Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich
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Published: 30.11.2006, 06:00
Modified: 29.11.2006, 23:35
ETH Day 2006
Ambitious and happy to change

ETH Zurich celebrated its 151st birthday on Saturday 18 November 2006, again in the entrance hall of the ETH main building. Rector and Interim President Konrad Osterwalder together with ETH Executive Board Chairman Alexander Zehnder set out the priorities in terms of content before an audience of about 500 invited guests. There were six new honorary doctorates as well as other tributes, and for the first time at an ETH Day an award was presented for the best teaching achievement. The students chose Mathematics Professor Michael Struwe as the best lecturer of the year.

Norbert Staub

Speaking for the first time in his dual role as Rector and Interim President, Konrad Osterwalder took as the subject of his welcoming speech the mature self-understanding of the management and the organisation at ETH. This choice of subject came as no surprise after the eventful weeks culminating in the resignation of the President Ernst Hafen. Osterwalder said he would take the opportunity at the ETH Day to acknowledge those who designed an educational structure 151 years ago so solidly “that it is still standing firm today.” Thus from the very beginning the intention had been to have a high degree of autonomy and a President with very great decision-making powers – and it had also given proof of this. According to Osterwalder, “The first President, Johann Konrad Kern, had already refused three times (…) the wish expressed by his superior, the Federal Councillor Stefano Franscini, to become a professor himself at the new Institution.”

Strong presidency, a significant right to have a say

He said the benefits of this system – flexibility and efficiency in quality assurance – had long been recognised. However, the Principal explained that the ETH presidential system developed its effective impact only when it interacted with the broad right to have a say that had developed in parallel with it. There was a need for this equilibrium to be “nurtured and constantly renewed. Failure to take note of it is dangerous.” The flat hierarchy typical of ETH was also one of its strengths. He said that wherever knowledge was the basis or the product of an organisation, efficiency increased through short decision pathways, not only at institutions of higher education but also in industry. Osterwalder expressed the opinion that the flat hierarchy “had the additional advantage that the Executive Board remains in direct contact with the realities in research and teaching.” ETH was not able to give proof of its emphatic desire for renewal by expanding the natural sciences as was currently being forced through at other institutes of technology. “This action was already initiated and fully implemented by ETH a century ago.”

Welcoming change – the basis for top-class research

Nowadays the test of ETH’s capacity for change lay much more in its claim to think from the viewpoint of major problem complexes and less from that of academic disciplines. That’s why a redefinition of the collaboration between the two Institutes of Technology was exactly what was needed now. “That is not necessarily an easy task.” However, he said that a start on it must be made – and chiefly by the higher education institutions themselves – otherwise Switzerland would be threatened by “a gigantic squandering of its energies.” Among the tasks in store for ETH, Konrad Osterwalder highlighted System Biology with the SystemsX network, the Quantum Tera information technology project and various projects in the fields of the environment, sustainability and energy. He said there was also a need to re-examine the organisation of the Institute – but always with the aim of increasing the adaptability between research and teaching. The way the abbreviation ETH should be translated in conversations with Anglo-Saxon contacts had become clear to him in recent days: “Ever True to Herself”.

Analysing the conflict

In his formal address, ETH Executive Board Chairman Alexander Zehnder dealt with Ernst Hafen’s recent resignation. He began by acknowledging Hafen as a brilliant scientist who had entered the post with great vigour and a vision, and had been committed to the long-term well-being and success of ETH. One of his aims had been to reduce the administrative burden on the professors. However, Hafen had been unable to convince the professors of the route he was taking, and on the contrary the fear had arisen that ETH was losing important qualities. Zehnder said that only when it was too late had he himself realised the seriousness of the conflict between the President and the professors. By that time a mutually agreed solution was no longer possible. According to the ETH Executive Board Chairman, “We all share this defeat with Ernst Hafen.” The task now was to analyse the causes and to learn from them. In no sense was there a leadership problem at ETH as was being supposed in some quarters.

ETH Zurich should sail clear ahead

He said that the environment in which ETH operated was characterised by increasingly severe competition. No longer just the USA and Japan but also China, India and Singapore are now staking with determination on the knowledge card – with enormous investments and a pace that leaves Europe in the shade. Switzerland, which he said had the best cultural and economic prerequisites, urgently needs to concentrate its research forces to enable it to respond to this.


Praising the farsightedness of the Institute’s founders: ETH Rector and Interim President Konrad Osterwalder. large

Called for a concentration of forces in the context of Swiss research – especially in the ETH Domain: ETH Executive Board Chairman Alexander Zehnder. large

With regard to the ETH Domain, Zehnder explained that: “It is most important to me that we outgrow old animosities, especially between Zurich and Lausanne, and that we now concentrate resolutely on shaping our shared future.” He said that ETH as the “Flagship of the Domain" had the task of sailing clear ahead on this course into the future. According to Zehnder, against the background of the past few weeks it was now necessary for the roles of the players in the ETH Domain to be reconsidered and for the critical and self-critical dialogue to be intensified.

Teaching shown in the correct light: VSETH President Alexander Rudyk presented 15 “Golden Owls”. large

A double distinction for an ETH lecturer

Following the premiere in the anniversary year, VSETH President Alexander Rudyk awarded for the second time the “Golden Owl” for outstanding teaching achievements to 15 lecturers on behalf of the ETH Zurich Students Association (VSETH). According to a vote among the students, Mathematics Professor Michael Struwe achieved the best result. For this he also received the “Credit Suisse Award for Best Teaching” which was awarded for the first time and is accompanied by a prize of 10,000 Swiss francs.

Honours and a distinction in the politics of science

Six honorary doctorates were conferred during this ETH Day, in addition to numerous awards for outstanding graduation projects and degrees. The new Honorary Doctors are Franz Füeg and Josef Zweifel (Architecture), Jacob Israelachvili (Science of Materials), Eugene Myers (Computing Science), Josef Studinka (Environmental Sciences) and Hans-Jörg Rheinberger (History of Science). David Gugerli, Professor for the History of Technology and Head of the Department of Humanities, Social and Political Sciences, explained that the latter honour was also a “benchmark in the politics of science”. He said that, as Rheinberger’s investigation of experimental systems had demonstrated, academic culture remains alive and productive only if it can develop freely according to its own legitimacies without being hemmed in by the preconceptions and plans of the politics of science.

Niklaus Bühler, Verena Steiner and Karl von Meyenn were appointed Honorary Councillors of ETH Zurich. Artem Oganov of the Laboratory for Crystallography received this year’s ETH Latsis Prize on the ETH Day. This honours him for his papers on crystal structure prediction and the discovery of new minerals in the Earth’s crust and in the Earth’s mantle. The prize is worth 25,000 Swiss francs. This prize, which is awarded each year by the Latsis Foundation to an ETH researcher, is regarded as the starting point for a professorship.

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