University of Bern (Switzerland) Joy and sorrow at the Dies academicus 2022

The University of Bern had been waiting for this for a long time: the 188th dies academicus took place in person again this Saturday . After a digital implementation and a short-term cancellation in the two previous years, the foundation celebration 2022 could be celebrated as before in Casino Bern. “The Covid pandemic had us under control for over two years,” Rector Christian Leumann summed up in his opening speech, “but the virus has lost its terror”. At the same time, current world events were not left out – in her speech Christine Häsler, District President of Bern, addressed the outbreak of war in Ukraine, climate change and the fact that 500 million children worldwide have no access to education.

Bright spots and dark sides

Christian Leumann positioned this year’s dies academicus between “light and shadow”. He counted the new courses offered by the university as one of the bright spots, especially the bifaculty master’s degree in pharmacy and the master’s degree in precision engineering. “We were also delighted that we were among the world’s top hundred universities for the first time in the renowned THE ranking,” Leumann continued. The rector was also proud of the results of the interfaculty research collaborations and the many popular events – above all the first ” Anna Tumarkin Lectures in Philosophy ” and the fourth ” Night of Research “.

Leumann saw Switzerland’s exclusion from the Horizon Europe research program as “on the side of the shadows”. Leumann was also concerned about the impending energy shortage and the funding of the university by the canton. A structural deficit needs to be eliminated and appropriate adjustments made. In view of the current crises, the rector emphasized the responsibility of science: “Let us take care of it and act responsibly. This is the only way we can maintain society’s trust in our work.”

Definitely ensure research ability

“What kind of times are these when talking about trees is almost a crime because it includes silence about so many misdeeds!”. District President Christine Häsler began her speech with this quote from Bertolt Brecht. In view of the current crises, according to Häsler, people often do not dare to talk “about trees”. But the members of a Swiss university had the privilege of not having to remain silent and being able to express themselves freely – not only about Brecht’s trees, but also about the misdeeds.

Häsler emphasized that the researchers should definitely make use of this privilege. In order for them to be able to do this, however, their ability to conduct research must be ensured. “I understand research ability to mean ensuring optimal framework conditions so that researchers can exploit their potential,” explained the Director of Education and Culture. Promoting research ability is essential if the University of Bern wants to carry out its research mandate, says Häsler.

To do this, the planning and compatibility of an academic career, sufficient research funds and a solid infrastructure would have to be guaranteed. The District President praised all previous efforts, but, like Christian Leumann, saw obstacles not only in the lack of association with Horizon Europe, but also in the canton’s prioritization decisions with regard to its investments. Most recently, she thanked the university’s crisis management and all employees – “especially all the silent workers”.

Innovation through education and diversity

Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch was also pleased that the dies academicus took place again in the usual form. “I’m finally allowed to give my speech – on the third try,” joked the long-standing director of SECO, adding that it was a great honor and a special pleasure for her to be able to give the academic speech at the dies academicus of her alma mater.

Ineichen-Fleisch first reflected on her own student days: “When I think about where my passion for negotiation actually came from, I see a small hall in the main building of the university.” A lecture by State Secretary Klaus Jacobi aroused her interest, said the lawyer, who would later become State Secretary herself.

Based on her own experience, she finally emphasized the value of a high level of education: “Excellent education is such an important prerequisite because it forms the basis of our ability to innovate.” According to the former SECO boss, Switzerland in particular is dependent on innovation in order to “remain competitive and therefore successful on the world markets”. It is becoming increasingly important for a holistic view to think in an interdisciplinary manner and to be diverse. Here Ineichen-Fleisch praised ‹her› university: With the WTI, the World Trade Institute, and its interdisciplinary MAS in International Law and Economics, it foresaw the development very well.

“Qu’est-ce que c’est, le Mittelbau?”

The final speech was given by Emmanuel Büttler, Co-President of the University of Bern’s Mittelbauvereinigung (MVUB), who began his speech in French – “Qu’est-ce que c’est, le Mittelbau?” – and finished too. “Especially in a bilingual canton, the MVUB is committed to a lived and lively bilingualism,  explained the philologist.

However, Büttler’s main concern was to discuss what the mid-level faculty actually is and what it achieves. “This group of people between the students and the professorships,” emphasized Büttler, “is responsible for a third of the research production and half of all third-party funding.” She also handles a large part of the teaching. In addition, the central building is “also a place for exchange and discussion”. The MVUB, together with politicians, “contributed to the success of the Petition Academia ” – an initiative with the aim of improving the working conditions of young researchers. Büttler was certain that “the university would have a different face” without the mid-level faculty.

Seven honorary doctorates

As part of the celebrations this year, several people were awarded the title of Doctor honoris causa. The seven dignitaries received their titles after a musical performance by the Bern Medical Orchestra. Among them was former Federal Councilor Ruth Dreifuss: The first Swiss Federal President was recognized by the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences as a determined, objective and tireless politician who campaigned at local, national and international level for the implementation of a fairer, more social and more peaceful world selected and awarded for, among other things, their contributions to the equality of Swiss women and the realization of equal opportunities.

In addition to the honorary doctorates, the academic prizes of the University of Bern were also awarded. Five of these were handed over personally, with the Dr. Lutz and Dr. Celia Zwillenberg Prize this time went ex aequo to three people. The Theodor Kocher Prize for the best young professionals, worth CHF 50,000, was won by space researcher PD Dr. Andreas Riedo (uniaktuell reported ).