President ad interim

Thank You, Gabriele Siegert!

When Michael Hengartner stepped down, Gabriele Siegert took over the presidency of UZH on an interim basis on 1 February 2020. In two weeks, Michael Schaepman will take office as the new president on 1 August. The six months in between were quite a rollercoaster ride. Seven members of UZH look back.

David Werner

Gabriele Siegert
Gabriele Siegert
Leadership in an exceptional situation: Gabriele Siegert gives the keynote speech at the virtual Dies academicus in April 2020. (Image: UZH)

Gabriele Siegert had barely taken office when the first cases of coronavirus at UZH were confirmed. The events then unfolded thick and fast. In mid-March, all teaching was moved online in an unprecedented tour de force effort to enable the students to complete the semester as normal. All public events at UZH were cancelled.

On 20 March, UZH buildings closed to all members of UZH, with the exception of those carrying a special permit. On the very same day, Gabriele Siegert reached out to the UZH community with a video message recorded in her home office. “The situation is challenging us to change more quickly and comprehensively than we’d have thought possible until recently,” she said.

April brought new additional challenges, with the cautious lifting of restrictions and gradual steps toward resuming on-site operations at UZH. On 6 April, a first virtual town hall meeting was held with the members of UZH, and other meetings followed. The Dies academicus was also held digitally. On 8 June, adapted on-site operations resumed at UZH, and some museums and libraries reopened. On 15 June, Gabriele Siegert announced the planning principles for the coming Fall Semester, and she held the first-ever virtual meeting of the Senate in the history of UZH on 24 June.

Nobody could have predicted that the 2020 Spring Semester would so drastically differ from previous ones. Gabriele Siegert shaped these tumultuous months for the better by holding the UZH community together and encouraging students as well as staff to make the best of a sticky situation.

Below, seven members of UZH say thank you to Gabriele Siegert on behalf of the faculties, staff and students of UZH.

Making things possible

“Working together with a president like Gabriele has been wonderful. She is pragmatic, likes to get to the point and move things forward. Her motto is about making things possible rather than preventing them. She’s always on time, well-prepared, conscientious and is very authentic on Zoom. Challenging tasks such as holding the Senate meeting online went smoothly thanks to her calm demeanor. On behalf of all members of UZH, I would like to thank Gabriele very much for expertly steering the great ship that is UZH through the tumultuous first half of 2020.”

Christian Schwarzenegger, Vice President Faculty Affairs and Scientific Information

Great dedication

“Gabriele Siegert had to become a crisis manager almost as soon as she took up her new role. Over the past few months, UZH has had to navigate unchartered territory on an ever-changing and uncertain journey.  During this challenging time, Gabriele Siegert held the reins of UZH and showed herself to be a calm, engaging and forward-looking leader. Thank you for your great dedication in this extraordinary situation!”

Roger Stephan, Dean of the Vetsuisse Faculty

Incredible commitment to teaching

“Dear Gabriele, a truly remarkable semester has come to an end for the students and the entire university. We will never forget the Spring Semester 2020, not only due to the pandemic, but also as a result of your tireless efforts as President ad interim and Vice President Education and Student Affairs. Thank you for your leadership and commitment to achieving the best teaching outcomes for all!”

Pio Gino Steiner & Isaias Moser, Co-Presidents of the University of Zurich Student Association (VSUZH)

Leadership and vision

“As dean in these challenging times, I have greatly appreciated that Gabriele Siegert gave the faculties enough freedom to implement digital forms of teaching and exams. She let things move ahead whenever she heard strong arguments, which is a sign of great leadership and vision.

Faced with an unsteady and unpredictable situation, she paved the way for successful solutions to be established at UZH. With her leadership, crises of this magnitude can be overcome. And it’s great that she will continue to work at UZH in her roles as Deputy President and Vice President Education and Student Affairs. Thank you, Gabriele!”

Harald Gall, Dean of the Faculty of Business, Economics and Informatics

Soothing presence

“I was very grateful for Gabriele Siegert’s first video message on 20 March, as likely were many other UZH employees. That the UZH buildings would have to close was apparent before that day, and the library teams had to get organized very quickly, answer questions, endure uncertainty – and then all of a sudden working from home became a reality. Hearing Gabriele Siegert’s monthly words of appreciation on video had a soothing effect, and helped us feel like we weren’t alone, but an important part of UZH.

Ladina Tschander, member of the Main Library staff and delegate of the administrative and technical staff in the Senate

Tour de force

“Gabriele Siegert will be remembered for managing UZH during the coronavirus pandemic. Leaders show their true mettle when they are faced with situations of great crisis for which there are no precedents whatsoever. Gabriele Siegert guided UZH through this tremendous test with unassuming calm.

I truly hope that she will now have more time for private matters and leisure after these exhausting few months!”

Klaus Jonas, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Lending an ear

“On behalf of the junior researchers, the Association of Junior Researchers of the University of Zurich would like to express their sincere gratitude to Gabriele Siegert for expertly leading us through these unexpected events. In particular, we would like to mention her willingness to lend an ear and her transparent communication to the UZH community. We look forward to continuing our cooperation with her as Vice President Education and Student Affairs.”

Hannah Schoch, Co-President of the Association of Junior Researchers of the University of Zurich (VAUZ)

David Werner, UZH Communications; English translation by Philip Isler, UZH Communications

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