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Professor Dr. Peter Meusburger First Senior Professor of the University of Heidelberg

19 February 2007

Holder of the first-ever distinguished senior professorship formally conferred by the University — At a ceremony in the Great Hall of the Old University Rector Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff outlined the University's objectives in connection with this distinction

As of last Friday, the economic and social geographer Professor Dr. Peter Meusburger is the University of Heidelberg's first senior professor. At a ceremony in the Great Hall of the Old University, Rector Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff outlined the University's objectives in connection with this distinction. "There are very few others who would be as suitable a choice to establish the tradition of senior professorships at the University of Heidelberg as Professor Meusburger," the Rector said, addressing an audience of several hundred guests, including a large number of students.

"What are we celebrating today?" the Rector asked at the beginning of his speech. "Certainly not Professor Peter Meusburger's 65th birthday because that is in March. Perhaps the end of his university career? Thanks heavens no, because Professor Meusburger will remain an active member of the University of Heidelberg, not merely in an emeritus capacity but as the holder of the first distinguished senior professorship this University has ever conferred.

From the perspective of the Rectorate, we have not assembled here today merely to mark Professor Meusburger's departure from the chair of economic and social geography that he has held since 1982, despite the efforts of his home university in Innsbruck to re-enlist his services. The main reason for this gathering here tonight is rather to confer on him a newly created honour, that of the distinguished senior professorship." (Hommelhoff)

The Rector went on to say that the University of Heidelberg pursued three objectives with this new distinction: first it is designed to honour those professors who have not only been excellent researchers and academic teachers but who, above all, have served the whole University in an outstanding way. Secondly, the University is fully aware of the rich fund of experience gathered by such colleagues and hopes to continue to draw upon it after their retirement and, thirdly, to do so without impeding the access of younger academics to the professorship in question.

"There are many potential functions that senior professors can perform," Hommelhoff continued. "They can establish or consolidate an academic institution, support the upcoming generation of researchers in structured doctoral programmes, play an active role in dealing with the increasing teaching requirements a Faculty may face, or further the international partnerships in which the University is involved."

While tasks of this kind can be individually tailored to the existing situation, "they must represent a meaningful and visible asset to the University, quite simply because senior professors will receive various benefits from the University over a number of years. These include the baseline equipment and financial resources they require to fulfil their tasks, as well as an honorary salary that, while it is certainly not commensurate with the activities of a senior professor, cannot qualify as a merely symbolic 'one-dollar' emolument. But here it is not a question of money but above all of honour. A senior professorship is conferred for life. Incumbents will figure in the University staff register immediately after its Nobel Prize laureates."

Prof. Hommelhoff went on to say that there were very few others who would be so suitable a choice to establish the tradition of senior professorships as Professor Meusburger. With countless publications, notably in the field of education and labour-market geography, and with academic contacts throughout the world, he has been equally successful in supervising his students and advancing the upcoming generation of researchers in his field. But the truly unusual thing about Professor Meusburger's career in the Rector's eyes was the fact that as of the 1980s he had played such an outstanding and wide-ranging role in the academic administration of the University, as Rectorate commissioner on various occasions, as dean of the Faculty of Earth Sciences, as vice-Rector to Professor Ulmer, as member of the Administrative Council and as First Speaker of the Senate.

"Sensitively responding to the impulses emanating from the various groupings at the University and mediating between their different concerns and interests, Professor Meusburger has immediately left his imprint as a truly even-handed representative of the entire University on this newly created office, which is designed to strengthen the Senate," the Rector said. He also reminded his audience of Professor Meusburger's "unforgettable" efforts on behalf of the economics department and above all in the service of Heidelberg's medical sector and the amalgamation of the two Faculties in Heidelberg and Mannheim. "With the mixture of patience and tenacity that you displayed in your chairmanship of two Senate committees dealing with these matters, you have set in train a number of processes that are greatly beneficial to the best interests of the entire University. Both in the leading bodies of the University and at the ministry of education these endeavours have quite rightly earned you the greatest respect and appreciation. With modesty and determination you have played an absolutely crucial role in cleaving a path on the which the University of Heidelberg can systematically proceed towards the goal of unifying its medical sector and thus enhancing its outstanding prospects in the international contest for supremacy in the life sciences. For all this, my heartfelt thanks."

In view of his achievements, Professor Meusburger set a very high standard indeed for the senior professors, the Rector said, referring to his personal merits and his numerous activities as a major asset for the University. "But the greatest good fortune," he continued, "is the fact that Professor Meusburger will continue to serve the University with his contributions to Heidelberg's Institutional Strategy in the Initiative for Excellence, the restructuring of the earth sciences in Heidelberg and Baden-Württemberg, the cultivation of our partnership with the Eötvös Lorand University in Budapest and the conduct of two major research projects. Above all, you are a key figure for young researchers at the University."

"For all these reasons, it is an outstanding honour and a source of profound personal pleasure for me, as Rector of the University of Heidelberg, to thank you for your long years of service and to confer on you the status of distinguished senior professor of the University of Heidelberg." (Hommelhoff)

Please address any inquiries to:
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

Irene Thewalt
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 542317

Editor: Email
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