Swiss log on to lobby for change

November 14, 2003

Swiss academics are turning to the web to draw attention to cases of alleged character assassination and intimidation in universities.

They claim that universities have taken too much power from independent professorial committees and given it to bureaucrats, who might compromise the institution's independence for the sake of financial support from industry or government.

"Industry has replaced the role of the state in running universities," commented one vocal victim of "bossing", as it is termed by a "virtual" group created to lobby Swiss higher education to change its approach.

Dieter Genske, a German professor of environmental science, has become a cause célèbre for the International Network for the Protection of Academic Rights and Freedom in Switzerland.

Professor Genske was awarded almost SFr10 million (£4.3 million) in research money for long-term ecological projects in developing countries, but his contract was terminated after only 16 months.

The websites document his experiences at the ETH Lausanne and those of other foreign academics who claim they have been "mobbed" out of their contract jobs.

"I actually think it (his dismissal in 2002) had more to do with personal reasons. Perhaps I was too German, too gay and too green in someone's opinion," Professor Genske told The THES .

"I was open about my homosexuality and was out to my students and colleagues," Professor Genske said. He feels professional jealousy may also have played a part.

A commission investigated his case but was equally mystified, suggesting the reasons "could not possibly lie in his academic performance" - Professor Genske had published prolifically and been offered tenured professorships in Germany - and suggested it was because "he did not fit into the system".

Professor Genske said that his host country needed to take these issues seriously and confront criticism, rather than "kill it through silence".

The websites claim that they continue to receive reports of incidents of mobbing at Swiss universities.

The group is still pushing the government to address the issues of an academic's rights when faced with an evaluation process that has the power to end employment contracts without proper recourse to an appeal.

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