Cornerstones of UZH's New Governance Structure

No other university in Switzerland is quite as diverse as UZH, which is home to almost the entire spectrum of academic disciplines. In order to accommodate this diversity even better in the future, the seven faculties at UZH will be given a greater say in their own affairs starting in August 2020. At the same time, the Executive Board of the University will be granted more scope for developing university-wide strategies.


New governance structure
Diversity in action: Research, teaching and studying at UZH’s seven faculties. (Image: Christoph Fischer)


The Governance 2020+ program is restructuring how responsibilities are shared between the Executive Board of the University and the faculty leadership. The faculties are being granted more autonomy when it comes to their core responsibilities: research, teaching, continuing education and services. The role of dean is being upgraded while the vice presidents are being relieved of their duty to represent the faculties towards the Executive Board, allowing them to pay increased attention to matters that affect all faculties. These changes will allow both the Executive Board and the faculty leadership to focus more on strategic planning and action.

“The new governance structure will allow the vice presidents to focus on evolving our framework for research, teaching and services at the University,” says Vice President Christian Schwarzenegger. “This will help us in areas like building a reputation for UZH on the international stage and deepening the University’s relationships with businesses and society at large.”

The new governance structure at UZH builds on the resolutions and provisions that were defined in the preliminary project Strengthening the Management of the University of Zurich: Structures, Processes and Culture. As part of this project, the Executive Board of the University was expanded by two seats in 2018: one for the Office of the Vice President Medicine and one for the Directorate for Real Estate and Facility Management. Additionally, all three offices of the vice president have been renamed. The Office of the Vice President for Arts and Social Sciences became the Office of the Vice President Education and Student Affairs, led by Gabriele Siegert. The Office of the Vice President for Veterinary Medicine and Science, led by Michael Schaepman, became the Office of the Vice President Research in 2018 and now addresses topics relevant for the University as a whole: research, innovation and academic career development. The Office of the Vice President for Law and Economics was reorganized as the Office of the Vice President Faculty Affairs and Scientific Information and now includes the following cross-faculty remits: professorships, data protection and legal issues, libraries, informatics and digitalization. Christian Schwarzenegger, in his role as Vice President Faculty Affairs and Scientific Information, will work together with the relevant deans when it comes to handling new professors’ appointment negotiations. The Faculty of Medicine is excluded from this rule, where Vice President Medicine Beatrice Beck-Schimmer will be in charge of the appointment negotiations.

In order to flesh out and implement the resolutions and aims of the preliminary project Strengthening the Management of the University of Zurich, the Executive Board of the University approved the Governance 2020+ program in September 2018. The program includes a range of subprojects each headed by a particular Executive Board member. A team of three – Josef Falkinger, Michael Brändli and Katharina Korsunsky – is responsible for the program management of Governance 2020+. The Executive Board of the University acts as the steering committee for the program. The new governance structure for UZH will go into effect on 1 August.


Three deans discuss their new roles when it comes to working with the Executive Board of the University.

Klaus Jonas
“Our development strategy is sound and sensible”, says Klaus Jonas. (Image: zVg.)


Klaus Jonas has served as the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences since 2017. With his dean duties comprising a full-time job, his scholarly pursuits have been largely placed on the back burner. “But in exchange, in my role as dean, I'm getting a lot of practical experience that is relevant to my field of study,” says Jonas. “The day-to-day business of running the faculty is closely related to questions that are of interest to me as a social psychologist: leadership, teamwork, communication, negotiation.” Jonas says that serving as a dean is a “holistic experience” and sees it as a kind of free-of-charge form of continuing education. “In what other job would you get to deal with so many exciting issues from sociology and the humanities?” he asks.

Jonas views the changes to the role of dean foreseen by the Governance 2020+ reform program – more responsibility and authority for managing faculty affairs – as sound and reasonable. “These duties have been transferred to the faculties bit by bit over a longer period of time,” he explains. “This transfer has taken into account the fact that today's universities are under immense pressure from international competitors and therefore have to be run and managed more professionally.” For Jonas, it is important that this development impacts not just the role of deans but the role of everyone in the office of the dean. “It's not just about the leadership abilities of one individual person but about the skillset of what is in our case a 40-person team,” he says.

One task on the agenda for the next few years is continuing to optimize internal organizational processes within the faculty. What thematic priorities does the faculty want to pursue? How can the faculty support projects with partner institutions and joint research initiatives? And how might the faculty be able to benefit from a moderate reorganization of certain units?

Jonas describes one of the coming changes within the faculty’s development strategy as “truly innovative”: the implementation of one-on-one touchpoint discussions between the dean and professors. “They definitely shouldn't be characterized as performance appraisals between a boss and an employee, but rather as a welcome opportunity to discuss issues that are politically relevant within the faculty and to have a mutual, face-to-face discussion on topics like research projects,” he explains. Jonas believes that he is well equipped for this dialogue with professors in his faculty. However, his job as dean comes with certain challenges that he feels less prepared to meet, particularly when it comes to managing the faculty’s spatial resources. Over the next few months, Jonas intends to do some catching up on certain legal ins and outs of public administration and financial management. Alice Werner


Dorothea Lüddeckens is the first woman in the history of the Faculty of Theology who will take on the management of faculty affairs in her role as dean. What prompted the professor of religious studies to accept this post? “After criticizing the lack of women in leadership positions for many years, and after experiencing how women are overlooked, I made the decision to accept the challenge,” she explains.

Lüddeckens is aware that for deans, Governance 2020+ will bring about a higher workload with more responsibilities. “But I won't be deciding on things alone,” she clarifies. “We foster a strong culture of participation in our faculty. For example, the Faculty Assembly and the Faculty Council will still play a critical role in professorial appointments by casting the deciding vote.” Lüddeckens wants to maintain this democratic culture and integrate it with solid leadership on her part. “We'll have to see how that plays out in concrete terms,” she says, adding that she understands why the Executive Board opted to extend the deans’ term of office to four years. “This will make it possible to pursue goals over a longer period of time.” But where is this all headed? “One possibility is that our faculty could develop into a hub for religion-related research. A research hub that works on its own selected theological and religious studies issues while also offering a platform where all religion-related research topics at UZH can converge,” she envisions. Lüddeckens’ workload will be heavy going forward, but she already has a strategy for coping.  “Waking up earlier, more jogging and less Netflix,” she says with a laugh. Marita Fuchs


Roland Sigel
“The Faculty of Science is a believer in the process”, says Roland Sigel. (Image: Marc Latzel)


Inspired by his love of designing research projects and working on interdisciplinary questions, chemist Roland Sigel took up the post of dean at the Faculty of Science three years ago. The new Governance 2020+ reforms are set to increase the autonomy of the faculties, a development that Sigel welcomes as positive and in step with the times. “It makes sense to transfer more responsibility to the deans,” he says. “In many cases the deans were already de facto in charge of these areas anyway.” He sees the Faculty of Science as “very well positioned” in terms of the change process set to sweep through UZH. Sigel and his team were intimately involved in shaping the reforms, and he describes the Faculty of Science as a believer in the process and as highly motivated when it comes to putting the resolutions and structures into practice. “The faculty's new Organization Regulations have been accepted without any pushback,” he adds.

The Faculty of Science will enjoy numerous improvements thanks to Governance 2020+. For Sigel, having more autonomy when it comes to strategic and spatial planning is incredibly important. With the number of science students constantly climbing, there is a need for more facilities on Irchel Campus – a need that he describes as “urgent.” Now it will be quicker and easier for the Faculty of Science, working together with the Directorate for Real Estate and Facility Management, to advocate for its needs. Having budget authority is important for the faculty also in terms of planning how to fill its professorships. The new powers granted by Governance 2020+ will allow them to make more strategic decisions and decide on which fields and topics receive priority. Since the beginning of the year, for instance, funds from vacated professorial chairs have been pooled in their entirety for the purpose of appointing new professors, a system that allows for setting new priorities and creating space for junior researchers. “It’s no longer the case that chairs are automatically replaced,” he says. “We work together with department heads to jointly set strategies and criteria.”

Being dean of the Faculty of Science has long been a full-time job and comes with a term of four years. Sigel still has two years left in his term to implement his vision of a holistic faculty where top-notch research is conducted, teamwork is number one and junior researchers get the support that they need. In parallel, Sigel still serves as the head of a successful research group, although he delegates these responsibilities where he can. Stefan Stöcklin


New responsibilities for UZH faculties

  • Deans will act as direct representatives of their faculties towards the Executive Board of the University.
  • Responsibility for professors’ salaries, infrastructure planning and allocation of facilities will now fall under the remits of the deans.
  • All professorial appointments will now be overseen by the Vice President Faculty Affairs and Scientific Information (currently Christian Schwarzenegger). Deans will share responsibility for the appointment negotiations and be in charge of negotiating the resources in their area of responsibility, including professors’ salaries and allocation of facilities.
  • Deans will now have managerial responsibility for professors in their faculty.
  • The term of office for deans will be raised to four years for all faculties.

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