Twenty years without Giuseppe Buffi

Image: courtesy of the Corriere del Ticino archives
Image: courtesy of the Corriere del Ticino archives

Institutional Communication Service

20 July 2020

On the 20th anniversary of his death, we commemorate one of the founding fathers of our university by republishing a contribution in his memory.

At the beginning of each academic year, students from all over Switzerland and from more than 100 countries show up at the USI Lugano campus for enrollment. In 2001, to honour the memory of one of its founding fathers one year after his death, the main street of the University was named after former Councilor of State Giuseppe Buffi. In 2018, Viale Canavée in Mendrisio was also renamed Via Giuseppe Buffi.

It is however not only a matter of a commemorative plaque. Our students, professors, researchers and collaborators embody - studying, teaching and working "around" the plaque - the living legacy of Giuseppe Buffi, one of his most ambitious projects - the creation of USI - and his exemplary lesson of political courage, inspired by the desire to make the Italian speaking part of Switzerland more aware of its resources, its "Latin" genius and its development potential.

Buffi was a prescient politician, who saw in USI "a choice of the Ticino of hope and challenges". And USI truly embodied - and still embodies - the challenge and the hope of a suburban region who wanted to - and will - make a contribution to the future of all, taking shape as a place of knowledge, civilization and memory and thus interpreting its destiny as the cultural frontier between northern Europe and the Mediterranean. "It has always been understood that our Canton is a region that bridges two different realities (cultural, political, and economic). Until recently, we have limited ourselves to carrying parcels from one side of the bridge to the other. But now we have the ambition to participate in the creation of their contents", said the State Councillor.

Buffi’s mediation skills and talent as a communicator were decisive. He knew how to get out of the "poor relation" trap, sending a loud and clear message that USI was, on the contrary, "an act of love from the Italian speaking region of Switzerland to the whole of Switzerland," as he said at the inauguration of USI on 21 October 1996. Even then, the State Councillor clearly saw the enormous potential of our university project and its importance for the Canton and the whole of Switzerland, which others are only beginning to understand completely.

There is an anecdote that sums up the personality and charisma of Giuseppe Buffi very well. It happened in a session of the Swiss University Conference in Bern on 15 June 2000, just weeks before Buffi’s untimely death. The agenda included an item to officially recognise Ticino as a University Canton. Some members raised procedural complications and Buffi intervened decisively and without leaving room for any doubt, stating, “Università della Svizzera italiana must be evaluated with extreme rigour: we do not want the slightest doubt that recognition is given based on the quality of teaching, research and the contribution to the Swiss university system, rather than an act of paternalism towards a minority." This attention to quality, not seeking favours or shortcuts, is one of the fundamental values that our "founding father" entrusted to us and that continues to inspire our present and our future planning.

In the early days, another frequent objection to a university in Ticino was the risk of provincialism, of a university for the Swiss Italian-speaking region. Giuseppe Buffi has always made clear that with the establishment of USI the goal was not to interrupt the beneficial flow of Ticino students to Swiss and foreign universities but to introduce an influx of students from around the world to Ticino. And, more generally, to transform Ticino, due to the presence of a university, into a "place of opportunities", that would benefit from those same Ticino students. One of the concerns of the Council of State was, in fact, the brain drain: bright young women and men who leave to study and never return because of the lack of employment prospects. His vision of the university was also to become one of the cornerstones on which to build the future of the Canton, creating the best conditions to allow it to establish itself in the context of the Swiss Confederation and to allow future generations to compete on equal terms with increasingly aggressive competitors in the global economy while triggering innovation and regeneration processes bearing economic prosperity and social security for our region and its population.

Source: SQUARE USI - MAGAZINE, Quarterly magazine of Università della Svizzera italiana, issue number 20, 2016.


In the last Dies academicus of USI, celebrated online in May, the university commemorated the 20th anniversary of Giuseppe Buffi's death by re-proposing a film that features him in the first Dies academicus of the Università della Svizzera italiana: