Our Gotthard coach

La diligenza del Gottardo immortalata da Rudolf Koller, nel 1873 (Wikimedia).
La diligenza del Gottardo immortalata da Rudolf Koller, nel 1873 (Wikimedia).

Institutional Communication Service

23 April 2016

Albino Zgraggen, General Secretary

An interesting image, which I think encapsulates USI well from the time it assumed an administrative direction in 1996, is the famous Swiss painting, The Gotthard Post, immortalized by Rudolf Koller in 1873: a carriage carrying a handful of pioneers careening around a bend, drawn by galloping horses whipped by the coachman-president, along a road not yet fully built between the north and south of the Alps. We had very clear ideas about our goals, but the resources available on the one hand and circumstances on the other made us drive daringly and take risks.

USI began its journey with thirty people dedicated to administration across two campuses. Today the administrative services, librarians and technicians total about 140 employees: a major increase, yet not when considered in proportion to the growth of students and academic staff (both almost tenfold), which indicates efficiency and agility. One aspect of our trajectory that I admire and I find helpful is preserved in the future, along with two other qualities that I wish to emphasize here.

The first: Over the past 20 years, USI adopted a pragmatic approach in dealing with various situations that have arisen; instead of starting from a theory and then trying to organize reality, we were inspired by the reality of available resources; we did not focus on long-range plans on paper, on the contrary, we invested in serious proposals that were feasible, implementing them immediately.

Secondly, we were guided by the principle of responsibility, leaving a large degree of autonomy to responsible parties to manage their own projects and services. I believe that allowing ample freedom encourages the potential for individual initiative and collective collaboration, which has resulted in the pursuit and better achievement of objectives, not in every case, but in many, and possibly the most important, cases.

As Secretary General, I knew well the horses and the colts driving our progress: the professors and researchers who possess no shortage of creativity in educational planning and research design. Today we have one hundred professors, covering many different nationalities, cultures, mentalities and areas of responsibility. Despite such diversity, which can make it difficult to develop a shared identity, we have managed to find a concrete and common pursuit: the shared ambition to achieve the high standards required by the Swiss university system and the scientific and cultural competitive environment of the international academic community.

I have accompanied USI diligently for twenty years, alongside the coachman, but also beside the Faculties, careful to prevent a wheel from ending up in the ditch; twenty years of intense and passionate work, with a great deal of satisfaction. The most important achievement has so far been repeated every year: closing the accounts with virtually always with a positive balance. Sound finances reduce conflicts and more importantly, create opportunities for new development.

Other accomplishments are related to emotional moments, a prime example of which was the inaugural lecture of ISI, the Institute of Italian Studies, held by Giorgio Orelli and their first Wednesday conference with Piero Boitani on the theme of the creation. Other conference topics range from Genesis to Haydn, an authentic symphony between literature, painting and music. There was also the first Lectura Dantis, "Comedia", held by Carlo Ossola. These were all beautiful moments, and are now memories that together make for a promising onward journey.