Rector Prof. Dr. Bernhard Eitel at the Annual Celebration: “The University is getting more attractive all the time”

18 10 2008
Heidelberg University celebrates its 622nd anniversary – Outstanding successes, critical remarks
Rector Prof. Dr. Bernhard Eitel at the Annual Celebration: “The University is getting more attractive all the time”  
In at least one respect Heidelberg University will always be ahead of all the other universities in Germany. In the framework of its traditional Jahresfeier it has just celebrated its 622nd anniversary. Accordingly it was only logical that Rector Professor Bernhard Eitel should begin his speech of welcome with the words “I am proud”. One of the reasons for this pride is the University’s showing in this year’s Times Higher Education – QS World University Rankings, where once again Heidelberg heads the list of German universities. The Rector was particularly pleased by the results for the humanities, which have greatly improved over the past few years.

He was also gratified by the recent success chalked up in the Federal Ministry of Research’s “Top Cluster” competition, in which Heidelberg and its front-line partners in the Rhine-Neckar Metropolitan Region have done exceptionally well. This, Eitel said, indicates what an “attractive research environment” the University is operating in.

But in his speech Bernhard Eitel did not restrict himself to developments that have given rise to unalloyed rejoicing. He also referred to things that need to be viewed more critically. From an academic point of view, Heidelberg’s successes in the Initiative for Excellence contest are certainly ample reason for such rejoicing, particularly as the integration of the new graduate schools, clusters of excellence and Institutional Strategy projects into the Heidelberg research landscape has gone very smoothly. Yet there are a number of spin-off effects from the competition that face the University with “challenges that are not to be underestimated”. One of them is the establishment of the requisite infrastructure for the various projects, a process that is taking very considerable (funding) time. Also the appointment of academics, particularly from other countries, has frequently proved difficult and time-consuming – and the funding period for projects deriving from the Initiative for Excellence is only five years.

In their speeches, the chairman of the University Council, Dr. Dr. Peter Bettermann, and the First Speaker of the Senate, Prof. Dr. Heinz-Dietrich Löwe, took much the same line. While they welcomed the many successes and gratifying developments at the University, they too referred to various things requiring urgent attention. Dr. Bettermann took up the rector’s remarks on the lack of room space at the University, calling it a situation that needed to be remedied without delay. Professor Löwe, for his part, concentrated on issues connected with studying and teaching. While explicitly welcoming the introduction of fees for students, he criticised the protracted uncertainty about the actual use they are to be put to. On behalf of the students, Maria Pinzon spoke of the relative nature of the term “importance” in connection with higher education policy. The definition of “importance”, she said, was still the preserve of those with decision-making powers and complained that students have less and less say in matters that affect them.

Traditionally, there is a keynote speech at the heart of the Annual Celebration. This time the subject was not academic but revolved around a central component of the Institutional Strategy with which Heidelberg was successful in the Initiative for Excellence – the Marsilius Centre for Advanced Studies. Alongside virologist Professor Hans-Georg Kräusslich, sociologist Professor Wolfgang Schluchter is academic director of this institution, which is modelled on the institutes of advanced studies to be found in English-speaking countries. In this capacity, he gave a very graphic account of the topics and structures with which the Marsilius Centre intends to set new standards in interdisciplinary cooperation.

Another firmly established feature of the Jahresfeier is the presentation of awards. This year, the Klaus-Georg and Sigrid Hengstenberger prizes in support of young researchers went to psychologist Dr. Matthias Blümke, ancient studies researcher Dr. Christa Kuhn and physicists Dr. Stefan Groot Nibbelink and Dr. Victor Lendermann. The prize monies will enable the recipients to organise a symposium at the International Science Forum ((IWH). The status of honorary senator was conferred on Heidemarie Engelhorn, “especially for her commitment to American Studies at Heidelberg University”. For his many donations to the University, Manfred Lautenschläger received an honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Theology as a “shining example of commitment to Christian values”. Another honorary doctorate, this time from the Faculty of Chemistry and Earth Sciences, was bestowed on Professor Geoffrey Boulton, “one of the most significant and influential geoscientists of our generation”. The British scientist was honoured for his pioneering research achievements, for example on glacier formation. Great appreciation was also expressed for his activity on the University’s advisory academic committee in connection with the proposals for the Initiative for Excellence.

The motto of Heidelberg University is “The Future. Since 1386” and the ceremony made it clear in a variety of ways that this motto is being taken seriously. The next really big celebration is due in 2011 and the preparations for it are already under way. Medical scientist Professor Jochen Tröger, awarded the title “distinguished senior professor” at this year’s ceremony for his countless merits, not least as vice-Rector for research (1998-2007), will be chairing a committee in charge of the academic organisation of the upcoming jubilee. In 2011 the University will be celebrating its 625th anniversary – a genuine cause for pride not only in Heidelberg.
Oliver Fink

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Heidelberg University
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Irene Thewalt
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