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Dies Academicus of the University of Basel: Honorary doctorates for Hansjörg Schneider and Vitalik Buterin

On Friday, 30 November 2018, the University of Basel held a traditional ceremony to celebrate its Dies Academicus – for the 558th time. The writer Hansjörg Schneider and the blockchain developer Vitalik Buterin were made honorary doctors along with the hospice founder Verena Grether, the medical engineer Robert Riener, the federal judge Thomas Stadelmann, the neuroscientist Thomas R. Insel, the theologian Hans-Martin Barth, and the illustrator Armin Coray. The Alumni Prize was awarded to the economist Beatrice Weder di Mauro.

30 November 2018

In recognition of his multifaceted body of work, the writer and crime author Dr. Hansjörg Schneider received the honorary doctorate of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. The 80-year-old writer addresses Switzerland’s past and present to create impressive literary portrayals and collages characterized by critique and occasional anger but also sensitivity and humor at the same time. His keen eye for authoritarian attitudes, arrogance, and power and his faith in the power of storytelling were cited as grounds for the award. Schneider studied German studies, history, and psychology at the University of Basel, where he also earned his doctorate in 1966.

Young “Ethereum” inventor honored

The Faculty of Business and Economics awarded its honorary doctorate to the 24-year-old Russian-Canadian software developer and author Vitalik Buterin. He received the honor in recognition of his contribution to promoting decentralization and equal rights of participation in the digital revolution, as well as for his achievements in relation to cryptocurrencies, smart contracts, and institutional design. The co-founder and inventor of “Ethereum” – a decentralized platform based on blockchain technology – authored his scientific publications without an academic degree or ties to a university.

This year, the Faculty of Medicine awarded not one but two honorary doctorates: Verena Grether, founder and sponsor of Hospiz im Park, Arlesheim, was honored for her pioneering contribution to the development of outpatient and inpatient palliative medicine, care, and support. The second honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Medicine went to Professor Robert Riener of ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich, who is a world-renowned researcher in the field of rehabilitation robots and robotic disability aids. He received the honor in recognition of his commitment to accessible mobility and interaction for people with disabilities, as well as for the “Cybathlon” – a competition he founded in which people with disabilities use technical assistance systems to complete everyday tasks.

Courage for victims of persecution

The Faculty of Law presented its honorary doctorate to federal judge Thomas Stadelmann. For many years, Stadelmann has worked tirelessly to promote judicial independence, the separation of powers, and access to justice in European states where the rule of law is under threat. In particular, he has been critical of the judicial situation in Turkey and has fought courageously on behalf of persecuted and imprisoned judges and public prosecutors and their relatives.

This year, the Faculty of Theology awarded its honorary doctorate to the German Professor Hans-Martin Barth. Both in his research and in practice, the Reformed theologian and emeritus professor at Philipps-Universität Marburg has rendered outstanding services to ecumenical understanding between the Christian churches and confessions. He also encouraged the opening up of Protestant theology to dialog with other religions and was the first German-speaking theologian to author a work on dogmatics in the context of world religions.

An illustrator and an observer of nature

The honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Psychology went to the American Thomas R. Insel, MD, who, as a former long-standing Director of the National Institute of Mental Health in the USA, is one of the world’s most influential clinical neuroscientists and psychiatrists. Insel received the honor for his contributions to the study of psychiatric disorders and his achievements in establishing psychopathology and psychiatry as integral components of the modern neurosciences.

The scientific illustrator Armin Coray received an honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Science. As an observer of nature with an excellent knowledge of entomology, he has made key contributions to the differentiation of species, to knowledge relating to distribution ranges, and to our understanding of the habits of grasshoppers and beetles. There was also mention of Coray’s support for research into endangered species through a decades-long collaboration with the University of Basel and the Natural History Museum Basel.

Dies speech and Early Career Awards

At the ceremony in St. Martin’s Church, Professor Andrea Schenker-Wicki, President of the University of Basel, gave her Dies speech entitled “Innovation”. She said that, in addition to their responsibilities for teaching and research, all good research universities had a “third mission” entailing knowledge transfer – and therefore the idea that knowledge generated in universities should be put into practice as rapidly as possible for the benefit of society: “The University of Basel has also embarked on this path.”

A number of other accolades were granted at the Dies Academicus to junior researchers in recognition of outstanding theses: The Amerbach Prize, sponsored by the University of Basel, was awarded to Dr. Michaela Slotwinski for her dissertation in the field of economics and her research activities, in which she uses excellent methodological knowledge to produce innovative econometric analyses.

The athletics prize, sponsored by Basler Versicherung AG, went to Yves Haussener, a bachelor’s student of sports sciences with a minor in history. In 2018, Haussener won a bronze medal at the World University Beach Volleyball Championship in Munich (Germany).

The Emilie-Louise-Frey Prize, which supports junior female scientists, went to Katharina Johanna Laubscher and Ksenia Reznikova in recognition of their outstanding master’s theses.

Faculty prizes

In addition, the following faculty prizes were presented to junior researchers for outstanding dissertations and studies:

  • The Faculty of Theology prize to Dr. Christine Oefele and Dr. Manuel Schmid
  • The Faculty of Law prize, sponsored by the law firm Vischer, to Dr. Nicolas Fuchs
  • The Faculty of Medicine prize, sponsored by Roche Pharma Research, to Dr. Mandy D. Müller
  • The Humanities Prize of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, sponsored by the L. and Th. La Roche Foundation, to Dr. Tanja Hammel
  • The Faculty of Science prize, sponsored by Adobe Research (Schweiz) AG, to Dr. Silvia Domcke and Dr. Florian Pommerening
  • The Faculty of Business and Economics prize, sponsored by the Basler Kantonalbank Foundation for the promotion of economics research and teaching at the University of Basel, to Dr. Armando N. Meier
  • The Faculty of Psychology’s Steven Karger Prize, sponsored by the medical and scientific publisher Karger, to Dr. Helen Koechlin and Dr. Cosima Locher

Other honors

Rahel Ackermann Hui received the Young Talent Prize from the student association “Schwizerhüsli”. This award is sponsored by the Ferdinand Neeracher-Pfrunder Foundation.

Alumni Prize for Beatrice Weder di Mauro

The University of Basel’s Alumni Prize 2018 was awarded to the economist Professor Beatrice Weder di Mauro. This former student, PhD student, and assistant professor at the University of Basel has worked for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in several emerging economies. As the first woman to sit on the German Council of Economic Experts, she played a decisive role in shaping the economic policy debate in Germany for many years.

With a successful career both in academia and in private enterprise and economic policymaking, Beatrice Weder di Mauro serves as an example of an academic who practices her science in an applied context rather than from an ivory tower.

Further information

Matthias Geering, University of Basel, Head of Communications & Marketing, phone: +41 61 207 35 75, mobile: +41 79 269 70 71, email: matthias.geering@unibas.ch


Photos of the ceremony in St. Martin’s Church will be available in the media database in the afternoon of Friday, 30 November 2018.

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