At the annual ceremony for the presentation of awards to distinguish outstanding doctoral and Habilitation dissertations from the various Faculties of the University of Heidelberg on 26 January, Rector Prof. Peter Hommelhoff expressed his gratification at the high quality and wide range of studies produced at the University. The awards in question were the Ruprecht-Karl Prizes donated by the Stiftung Universität Heidelberg Foundation, the Fritz Grunebaum Memorial Award and the Environmental Studies Award of the Viktor and Sigrid Dulger Foundation.
The dissertations thus distinguished, said Prof. Hommelhoff, reflected the impressive scope of scholarly and scientific endeavour for which Heidelberg, as a traditional German university, has always been notable, with subjects ranging from biblical exegesis to the bromide content of the stratosphere. He interpreted this wide range of excellence as a manifestation of the principle of the unity of research and teaching and also as the fruit of the extremely thorough kind of university education that German universities are still renowned for. It may well be, said Prof. Hommelhoff, that German students graduate later than their rivals in Britain or the Netherlands. But when it comes to competing for leading positions they have a definite advantage. "The elites produced by German universities in the Heidelberg mould can hold their own anywhere in the world."
In the latter part of his remarks, the Rector extended a vote of thanks to the donors of the awards being presented. The Ruprecht-Karl Prizes are donated by the Stiftung Universität Heidelberg Foundation. Prof. Hommelhoff recalled the role played by honorary senator Professor Lotz in encouraging large companies to donate capital from which university activities could be funded. Today, however, in the age of shareholder value, there is a more marked reluctance on the part of firms to play the "good citizen" in the academic sphere, preferring to concentrate on such areas as sport, where sponsorship is far more likely to promote the company's public image on a broad scale.
This being the case, the commitment displayed by private individuals in supporting the University takes on a special significance. Prof. Hommelhoff referred to these private donors as the "patrons of the 21st century". One example of such generosity is the prize donated by Roberta Grunebaum in memory of her husband Dr. Fritz Grunebaum, an honorary senator of the University of Heidelberg. The Fritz Grunebaum Award was among the prizes presented at the ceremony.
New to the circle of private donors are honorary senator Professor Viktor Dulger and his wife Sigrid with their generous endowment of 5,000 for the Environmental Studies Award that bears their name. The prize goes to outstanding scientific work by younger academics in the field of environmental research. A central concern of the donors is to encourage technological and/or organisational innovations that promise greater protection for the environment. The first Dulger laureate is in fact a mathematician, which Prof. Hommelhoff interpreted as a sign of how creative scientific endeavour can be for fields outside the immediate scope of the research itself. He went on to express the University's heartfelt gratitude to Professor Dulger and his wife for their generosity and commitment.
In conclusion, the Rector emphasised how vital such commitment from private persons is for the University, whether it be in material or immaterial form. Donations of this kind serve not only to underline the unique achievements of the University in the public eye but also to finance activities for which public funds are either not available at all or not in adequate measure. As an example he quoted the conversion of the former nurses' homes on the Neuenheimer Feld campus into a hall of residence notably for international students. In comparison with other institutions of higher learning in Baden-Württemberg, Heidelberg ranks fairly low on the list of private endowments and efforts will be made to change this state of affairs as quickly as possible.
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