Rubrik: Campus Life
Change of command at the Centro Stefano Franscini
“The exchange of ideas takes priority”
Published: 05.04.2007 06:00
Modified: 04.04.2007 18:03
Hannes Flühler, Director of the Centro Stefano Franscini on the Monte Verità campus at Ascona, hands over the post to his successor Paolo Ermanni today, 5 April 2007. In an interview with ETH Life Hannes Flühler explains why it is worthwhile for ETH Zurich to operate a conference centre in Ticino.
Interview Felix Würsten
Mr. Flühler, you were appointed as the second Director of the Centro Stefano Franscini (CSF) (1) in 1995 as successor to Konrad Osterwalder. How did you attain this office?
I had good connections with the CSF from the very start. When ETH Zurich together with the canton of Ticino established the Monte Verità Foundation in 1989, there was a search for people who could organise a workshop in Ascona within a few months. I held the very first workshop on the Monte Verità – in fact it took place even before the official opening. I organised two more conferences in Ascona in subsequent years. When Konrad Osterwalder was elected Rector, he asked me whether I would accept the post of Director. He promised me then that the time demands would remain within limits.
And was that really a fact?
Not at first. (laughs) But it has settled down very well since then. Karin Mellini, General Manager of the CSF here in Zurich, and Claudia Lafranchi and Liliana Cantoreggi in Ascona work together very well and have organised their tasks clearly. That is not at all easy, and not only because of the geographic separation. We work with quite different conference organisers, and that needs faultless communications.
There are 25 conferences on the program list this year. Could the CSF hold even more events?
ETH Zurich undertook an obligation to hold between 15 and 20 workshops per year. Currently there are slightly more, but there is scarcely any possibility of a further increase. Funding is the limiting factor. The CSF wants to hold workshops on the Monte Verità at a high scientific level. To keep it attractive as a platform, the CSF offers the organisers financial support. That means the more workshops they hold, the less money is available for each individual event. There are also staffing limitations. The CSF’s team is at full capacity with 25 workshops.
What does the demand look like?
In 2008 there were 37 applications of which 22 were approved.
Based on which criteria?
Scientific quality is the decisive factor. The CSF has an advisory council with members from various specialist fields. Anyone who wants to hold a congress must submit an application which is then assessed by the advisory council. Officially it is the Director who then decides whether or not an application is approved, but in my whole time in office I never disregarded the advisory council’s recommendation.
So what motivates a researcher to hold a workshop at the CSF?
Whoever organises a five-day conference on the Monte Verità receives generous financial support. This enables the organisers to invite top-flight people for keynote lectures, for example. However, they can also lay on an excursion or award grants to young scientists. Basically it is left to the organisers to decide how they use the money.
Isn’t the chance to escape from the frantic pace of daily work to spend a week in discussions with other professional colleagues in tranquillity in a beautiful place also very attractive?
Yes certainly, and that is exactly the idea behind the CSF. People get to know each other much better in five days than in two or three days. Experience also shows that it is precisely such encounters that yield fruitful scientific contacts. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit top-flight people for five days. That’s why we have already approved four-day conferences as well.
Must the organisers publish a conference report before or after the conference?
No, they expressly need not do so, but of course they are at liberty to publish something. The contents of some conferences were documented in books, others appeared as series of publications in international journals, and yet others were recorded in a volume of abstracts. In my opinion it should also be possible occasionally at these workshops to give a presentation that does not have to be worked up into a paper. Priority is given to the exchange of ideas, not to a product.
Where do the CSF’s funds originate from?
The majority of our funding comes from the ETH Zurich research budget. ETH Zurich contributes 600,000 Swiss francs, excluding personnel costs; a further 140,000 Swiss francs originates from other sources, mainly from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF). The EPF Lausanne and the Swiss Academy of Sciences also make a contribution.
Doesn’t this one-sided funding attract criticism?
About 10 years ago a few members of parliament complained that it was not the responsibility of ETH Zurich to operate a research funding scheme, since researchers from other higher education institutions can also organise conferences on the Monte Verità. We have since been able to refute this criticism. There are scarcely any opposing voices within the organisation – in fact many ETH Zurich professors have themselves already derived benefit from their experience on the Monte Verità. Personally I am convinced that we gain a great deal for science at ETH Zurich from the money we invest, especially for the younger generation.
Would it not be possible to operate the CSF as a profit centre?
This idea has already been expressed, but I doubt whether it would work. The CSF is no longer so attractive if it cannot award grants – there are any number of other places to hold a workshop.
You hand over your office to Paolo Ermanni on 5 April 2007. Is it a coincidence that he is from Ticino?
That was not the decisive criterion in his selection. However, of course it is an advantage if the CSF exponent has local roots, language reasons being only one of them. You must remember that the Ticino – Politecnico axis is still important. The CSF is one element that reinforces this link.
How is the CSF perceived by the local population?
Initially there were claims that the Monte Verità would be desecrated, as it were, by holding scientific-technical conferences there. That’s why we made great efforts to involve the Ticino population from the very start. We also take an active part in the Monte Verità Foundation’s public relations work. The relationship has eased in the meantime. The cultural events in particular, the "Racconti al Monte" (Tales on the Hill), are very popular. This programme also incorporates our regional PR campaigns.
ETH Zurich also has a second seminar centre in Southern Switzerland, the Villa Garbald in Bergell. Is there collaboration with the CSF?
When the Villa Garbald was opened as an ETH Zurich centre, we discussed the idea of combining the two centres. However that makes little sense if only for geographic reasons – Ascona is about as far from Castasegna as Zurich. The CSF could not cope with it for personnel reasons either. In addition the Villa Garbald is designed for quite different events. That’s why a separation seems reasonable to me.Footnotes: