Q&A with Peter Lutzeier

We speak to the vice-chancellor of Newman University and chair of The Cathedrals Group

January 16, 2014

Peter Lutzeier is the first vice-chancellor of Newman University, a Catholic institution awarded university status last year. In December, he became chair of The Cathedrals Group, an association of universities and university colleges in England and Wales with Church foundations.

Where and when were you born?
Stuttgart, Germany, August 1948.

How has this shaped you?
Growing up, I was aware of the terrible human and physical scars left by the Second World War. The richness and diversity in art, culture and education across the German Länder make me a committed federalist; I’m committed to Europe too.

Describe your new job in 140 characters.
I lead a group of 16 distinguished institutions with Church foundations. We aim to offer a values-driven, academically excellent alternative.

How do you hope The Cathedrals Group’s members can contribute to addressing major social issues?
The group’s mission is to present a distinctively ethical perspective in higher education. Members are a major force in education, theology and religious studies and training for public sector professions. We have a strong commitment to social justice and volunteering. Staff and students are involved in community projects, overseas aid and charitable fundraising. The Catholic members also follow the radical principles of Catholic social teaching.

What is the key difference in the approach taken by church-affiliated universities compared with those with no religious ties?
We’re concerned about education as a public good, respecting the dignity of all people who are made in God’s image, and being open to critical self-examination. Taking faith seriously means engaging in dialogue and respecting difference.

Have you had a eureka moment?
A tricky problem in my PhD fell into place while I was watching a football match in Stuttgart.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Try to listen and talk more to your parents.

Tell us about someone you’ve always admired.
“Always” can apply only to my wife. But I also deeply respect a fellow Stuttgart citizen, the Jesuit priest Rupert Mayer, who was a leading figure in the Catholic resistance to Hitler.

In the past decade, what has changed most in higher education?
The Bologna Process has taught us that harmonisation is possible across national borders. At a time when there is a growing trend for flexible studies, credit accumulation and credit transfer, we need more of that.

What are the best and worst things about your job?
Speaking personally, as a vice-chancellor the best thing is to see colleagues develop and flourish, especially those I’ve appointed myself. The worst thing would be to appoint someone who doesn’t thrive in their new role.

What keeps you awake at night?
Staffing issues.

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I wanted to be a cartographer, but a doctor convinced me – something that would never happen today – that the outdoors wasn’t good for me. So I decided to become a mathematician.

Tell us about a book, show, film or play that you love.
There’s nothing better than The Ring of the Nibelung, Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk. I admire the richness and complexity of its treatment of power and love, set in music that’s out of this world.

What do you do for fun?
Run and walk outdoors or watch a good football match. And, as my wife says: “He’s still good at doing the washing-up!”

What’s your biggest regret?
That I never met one of my uncles who fell in the war as a 26-year-old, nor one of my aunts who as an 18-year-old with epilepsy was a victim of Hitler’s euthanasia programme.

What’s an undergraduate degree worth?
It’s priceless really; an essential part of one’s formation that no one can ever take away.

Express your feelings about your institution gaining university status.
It’s about time! More seriously, I’m immensely proud to have witnessed the creation of the first two Catholic universities in this country since the Reformation and to be the vice-chancellor of one of them.

Was Universities UK right to say that segregation by sex was acceptable in some contexts, such as events held by religious groups?
A clear “no” for any public, non-worship event no matter where it’s organised or by whom.

Has the prominence within universities of “new atheists” such as Richard Dawkins affected the atmosphere for academics who are committed to Christian values?
As John Henry Newman said: “Who is afraid of a debate about reason and belief?” We always welcome respectful dialogue as a way to new knowledge and truth. What we desperately need is better education in religious literacy.

john.elmes@tsleducation.com

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