October 12, 2018

ETH Zurich Refills Ombuds Vacancies With Two New Appointments

After a dramatic year at the leading Swiss engineering and technology university, two new Ombudspersons have been appointed.  Margrit Leuthold and Peter Frischknecht, were elected by the ETH Executive Board. They join Gerhard Tröster, who was appointed earlier this year. 

Last year, ETH closed its Institute of Astronomy after the Ombuds raised issues of bullying by a prominent professor.  In Spring 2018, the university did not reappoint two of the Ombuds, professors Maryvonne Landolt and Wilfred F. Gunsteren, alleging that they were "too old" for the role (both were in their early seventies). Landolt and Gunsteren then released emails that showing pressure from university administrators to suppress the complaints. Under pressure, the university kept Landolt and expanded the Ombuds program to three with the appointment of Professor Gerhard Tröster and the former ETH Secretary General Hugo Bretscher. After just one month on the job, Bretscher resigned last week and Landolt retired shortly thereafter. 

The faculty president answered some questions about the appointment and role of the ETH Ombuds:

Is the new selection process and the increase from two to three ombudspersons also linked with the reports of leadership problems that ETH was once again recently faced with?
Not just that. The sensitivity regarding leadership has certainly increased and the number of inquiries is likely to rise accordingly. However, because of ETH’s continuing growth and the broad spectrum of cases and topics, it made sense to increase the capacity of the Ombudspersons’ Office anyway. Gerhard Tröster, a professor, Peter Frischknecht, a former department coordinator with teaching experience, and Margrit Leuthold, who knows the administrative area very well, together make up the ideal team.

As University Assembly President, what makes the ideal ombudsperson, in your view?
For the University Assembly, the focus lies on the individual’s suitability. A good ombudsperson needs to be empathetic and be able to lead demanding talks so the ETH members can place their trust in them. They must also have a thorough knowledge of the law and know the internal processes of ETH inside out. Furthermore, an unconditional commitment to confidentiality is essential, as well as independence of judgement and approach. The interests of those seeking advice are of course central, but the ombudsperson should also have the interests of ETH in mind. The ombudsperson must put aside their own concerns. The individuals selected fully meet these requirements, as does the current ombudsperson, Gerhard Tröster.

Leuthold and Frischknecht both held other positions in the institute. Leuthold had lead the Staff and Support Offices for Medical Research and Innovation, under the ETH Vice President Research and Cooperate Relations. Frischknecht is a long-serving department and study programme coordinator at D-USYS and retired in June 2017. (ETH News.)

Related post: Swiss University Closes Institute After Ombuds Surface Concerns; Ombuds Program at ETH Zurich Roiled After Controversy.

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