Zürcher Appell



International Appeal
for the protection of academic independence
(published on february 28th, 2013)

Now that cooperation between the private sector and public universities has all but become the norm, in Europe as elsewhere, it is time to ask some basic questions: What is a university? And what is its role in society?

Universities grew out of the idea of establishing a place where freedom of research, education and scholarship is protected and beyond venal influence. They serve the common good and in turn are supported by the community. Directly linked to this founding idea is the academic ethos that preserves the institution of the university as a special place, free from political, ideological and commercial interests. Freedom of teaching and research is protected by the Swiss Constitution.

Against this background, it is self-evident that a public university should neither cooperate with nor accept sponsorship from institutions associated with public scandal or unethical conduct. That is damaging to the academic reputation of any university. And it impinges upon the independence of the scholars concerned, particularly those directly funded by such institutions, undermining their status as guarantors of independence and ethically-minded scholarship.

The University of Zurich was born of this same spirit of independent thinking in 1833. It is “the first university in Europe to be founded by a democratic state instead of by either a monarch or the church”. This proud claim stands to this day on the university’s website. The question is: are today’s universities still sufficiently independent in an age of cooperation and sponsorship?

In April 2012, the Executive Board of the University of Zurich concluded a cooperation agreement, in camera, with the top management of UBS (Union Bank of Switzerland). The agreement entails sponsoring of the university by UBS to the tune of 100 million Swiss francs and the establishment of a “UBS International Centre of Economics in Society” within the scope of the university. Neither the public nor the research and teaching staff were asked their opinion. The agreement between the university and UBS was concluded secretly in the spring of 2012.

This procedure brings the issue of sponsorship into sharp focus. The Executive Board of the University concedes that the bank is using the university as a platform to further its interests. However, UBS is a particular case of a business that has been shown in the past to have engaged in unethical practices. The fact that the bank was able to place its logo at the University of Zurich has nothing to do with scholarship and everything to do with marketing.

It is a glaring example of the problematic nature of academic sponsorship. But there are many more instances, in other European countries, of questionable university sponsorship deals. In one case, in June 2011, Deutsche Bank had to withdraw from a controversial sponsorship arrangement because of justified public criticism. This shows that sponsorship involving specific vested interests and secret deals – in contrast to altruistic patronage and donation by benefactors – represents a threat to the impartiality of university research and teaching. The very academic ethos is at risk.

As citizens, researchers, academics and students, we appeal to the leaders of the universities and all who bear responsibility for our educational institutions, at home and abroad, to safeguard the precious heritage of free and independent scholarship, and to avoid endangering the academic ethos in controversial collaborations.

The first 27 signatories

Prof. Dr. Andreas Auer,

Professor für Öffentliches Recht, Universität Zürich, sowie Direktionsmitglied des Zentrums für Demokratie, Aarau

Prof. Dr. Peter Bieri,

Schriftsteller und emeritierter Professor für Philosophie, Freie Universität Berlin

Prof. Dr. Hans Christoph Binswanger,

emeritierter Professor für Volkswirtschaftslehre, Universität St. Gallen

Prof. Dr. Mathias Binswanger,

Professor für Volkswirtschaftslehre, Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz, Olten

Prof. Dr. Andreas Brenner,

Professor für Philosophie, Universität Basel und Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz, Basel

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Pierre Bühler,

Professor für Systematische Theologie, Universität Zürich

Prof. Dr. Pio Caroni,

emeritierter Professor für Rechtsgeschichte und Schweizerisches Privatrecht, Universität Bern

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Kurt Flasch,

emeritierter Professor für Philosophie, Ruhr-Universität Bochum

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Bruno S. Frey,

emeritierter Professor für Ökonomie, Universität Zürich, sowie Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Science, Warwick Business School at the University of Warwick, UK

Prof. Dr. Daniel Hell,

emeritierter Professor für Klinische Psychiatrie, Universität Zürich, sowie ehemaliger klinischer Direktor an der Psychiatrischen Universitätsklinik Zürich

Prof. Dr. Jochen Hörisch,

Ordinarius für Neuere Germanistik und Medienanalyse, Universität Mannheim

Prof. Dr. Ursula Pia Jauch,

Titularprofessorin für Philosophie, Universität Zürich

Prof. Dr. Hans Ulrich Jost,

emeritierter Professor für Zeitgeschichte, Universität Lausanne

Univ. Prof. Dr. Konrad Paul Liessmann,

Professur für Methoden der Vermittlung von Philosophie und Ethik, Universität Wien

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Giorgio Malinverni,

emeritierter Professor für Verfassungs- und Völkerrecht, Universität Genf, sowie ehemaliger Richter am Europäischen Gerichtshof für Menschenrechte, Strasbourg

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Pierre Moor,

emeritierter Professor für Staats- und Verwaltungsrecht, Universität Lausanne

Prof. Dr. Markus Müller,

Professor für Staat- und Verwaltungsrecht sowie Öffentliches Verfahrensrecht, Universität Bern

Dr. Dr. h.c. Klara Obermüller,

Publizistin, Männedorf

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Margit Osterloh,

emeritierte Professorin für Ökonomie, Universität Zürich, sowie Professor of Management Science, Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, UK

Daniel de Roulet,

Schriftsteller, Genf

Prof. Dr. Marcel Senn,

Professor für Rechtsgeschichte, Juristische Zeitgeschichte und Rechtsphilosophie, Universität Zürich

Prof. Dr. Gottfried Schatz,

emeritierter Professor für Biochemie am Biozentrum, Universität Basel, ehemaliger Präsident des Schweizerischen Wissenschafts- und Technologierates

Prof. Dr. Andreas Urs Sommer,

Professor für Philosophie, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg i. Br.

Prof. Dr. h.c. Hans Peter Walter,

emeritierter Professor für Privat- und Wirtschaftsrecht, Universität Bern

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Niklaus Wirth,

emeritierter Professor für Informatik, ETH Zürich

Prof. Dr. Jean-Claude Wolf,

Professor für Ethik und Politische Philosophie, Universität Fribourg i. Ue.

Prof. Dr. Libero Zuppiroli,

emeritierter Professor für Physik, ETH Lausanne