Cohesion, democracy, quality and outreach in Rector Lambertini's address on first of August

L to R: Samuele Cavadini, Mario Botta, Luisa Lambertini, Francoise Gehring and Daniele Caverzasio
L to R: Samuele Cavadini, Mario Botta, Luisa Lambertini, Francoise Gehring and Daniele Caverzasio

Institutional Communication Service

2 August 2023

During her speech at the invitation of the City of Mendrisio for the August 1st celebrations, USI Rector Luisa Lambertini highlighted the importance of a partnership between the academic community and the region, based on the values that define Switzerland and its universities. She cited the growth of the "Arc Lémanique" region, facilitated by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, as an example of this collaboration.

We publish the full text of Rector Lambertini's address below.


Address First of August, 2023

by Luisa Lambertini, Rector of Università della Svizzera italiana

Honourable Mayor Cavadini
esteemed authorities,
citizens of Mendrisio,
dear guests,
dear friends,

first, I would like to thank Mendrisio City Hall for inviting me. As someone somewhat accustomed to academic stages, it is an honour to address you on the occasion of the 1st August celebrations, a celebration that I have greatly enjoyed over the last 20 years that I have spent in Lausanne.

I must admit, being on this side of the pulpit as a speaker this year is quite thrilling for me. However, I also feel somewhat awkward addressing a community of which I only know a few fragments of history and tradition, primarily related to the USI Academy of Architecture, that I have come to know and appreciate over the past few months.

Upon receiving the invitation, I pondered what I could contribute to this celebration. Firstly, I suggest taking a moment to reflect on the quintessentially Swiss values that I have grown to appreciate during my two decades in the Canton of Vaud. These values are what convinced me to remain in this country after a life of being a "globetrotting academic," which took me from Bologna to England and then to the United States. I resided in Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Boston.

Memories flood my mind of the time when I, along with my husband Demetri and daughter Alexandra, decided to embark on a new professional journey in a country I knew very little about, Switzerland. Although I participated in a handball match against the Swiss national team in Basel during the 1980s, I had not explored much else. Looking back, after two decades, I am confident that choosing this country was the right decision. I have grown to love it and share its core values. As the Rector of Università della Svizzera italiana since 1 July, I am dedicated to making a positive impact on the university and the surrounding region. What are these Swiss values that have become so important to me? Above all, I value cohesion. The German concept of "Willensnation" has always impressed me; it means a nation united by willpower and is difficult to translate into Italian.

As you know, Switzerland is not based on natural, geographical, linguistic or cultural borders. If we were based on our differences, everything would fall apart. As someone with an international background, I find it admirable that this country has chosen to prioritise what brings us together, despite the Alps and four different national languages standing in the way. Our unity comes from our determination and strong democratic principles, which I find beautiful. This determination to stay together and recognise each other inspires me when it comes to my ideal of a university community. Such a community must remain united in its differences and appreciate diversity to achieve progress and society's common goals.

Another typical Swiss value I share is that of a democratic approach to decision-making, in which Switzerland is exemplary thanks to its direct democracy. As the Rector of USI, you'll see that I don't favour hierarchies and bureaucracy. I prefer to hear people's perspectives and then make an informed decision on the best course of action. Being an economist, I firmly believe that a collaborative decision-making process yields better results than a top-down approach.

I would like to talk about another critical Swiss value. This value is well-known internationally, especially in the field of science, and it was one of the reasons why my husband and I decided to join EPFL 20 years ago. Now that I am here in Ticino, I will continue to prioritise quality in my work at the Università della Svizzera italiana. My goal is to contribute to the university and the region in the most qualified way possible. To achieve this, I have been working hard to understand USI's strengths and weaknesses, get to know my colleagues and the administrative staff and learn about the challenges facing the region. After all, universities should also be involved in activities that benefit the local community. Let us build on our shared values and set ambitious goals for ourselves.

Don't worry, I won't delve into the details of USI's 2025-2028 plans and how they'll affect the region, which I'm already working on. Instead, I'll provide some guidelines based on the fact that Ticino's leading sectors have been reduced in recent years. However, I don't think this marks the end of an era. As Rector, I'm determined to contribute to finding new paths for our economy and society. Since the initial establishment of three faculties in 1996 - Architecture, Communication, and Economics - we've also seen the growth of the Biomedical Sciences hub and the Faculty of Informatics, leading to related activities, start-ups, and spin-offs that benefit all sectors of society. Additionally, we're on the cusp of revolutionary changes brought about by artificial intelligence systems.

We are also at the forefront of this field in Ticino. The Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence USI-SUPSI is a renowned centre for AI research in Ticino that has gained national and international recognition for 35 years. Ticino also houses the Swiss Centre for Scientific Computing CSCS. With collaboration between the university, entrepreneurs, and entities, we can identify the most promising projects for our researchers to contribute to. To achieve this, we must create favourable conditions that allow people with high-level knowledge and skills from Ticino, Switzerland, and abroad to practice in our region. In summary, the key is to provide an environment that fosters growth and development.

I'd like to share an example that I'm familiar with, which is the development of the "Arc Lémanique" region through EPFL's efforts. The "Arc Lémanique" is located in the border region between France and Switzerland and has become a significant area for both economic and cultural growth over the past two decades. However, this wasn't always the case, and I can personally attest to the difference since I arrived from the United States. Research and education have played a crucial role in this transformation, leading to advancements in technology and innovation in the region. Research institutes have built strong relationships with local and international industries, working alongside numerous companies and organisations in the area. The region has benefited from the influx of international talent, including students, researchers, and professors. As a result, innovative entrepreneurship and start-ups have thrived, creating a dynamic and supportive environment that fosters innovative ideas and technologies. Over time, the "Arc Lémanique" has evolved from a peripheral region to an innovation hub. While this transformation didn't happen overnight, I'm optimistic about a similar future for Southern Switzerland, as positive steps have already been taken.

Academic and research institutions have increasingly established themselves internationally and their crucial role in shaping the future of the region is also increasingly recognised. The Ticino government is taking measures to promote innovation and entrepreneurship. It was news a few weeks ago that the Ticino governmentr enewed its financial commitment of CHF 60 million for innovation and regional economic policy from 2024 to 2027. Interactions between companies, academics and investors are becoming increasingly fruitful and will be even more so thanks to the Innovation Park and the competence centres in the region.

In short, I can say that what has been said so far is kind of a "pact" between academia and the region, namely: if we manage not to forget the typically Swiss values that I mentioned earlier - cohesion, a democratic approach to choices, and quality - and if we remain open to the world around us by encouraging the arrival of innovative entrepreneurship, then we will be able to give this region and the generations that follow a positive future.

I want to express my gratitude to the Mendrisiotto region for their unwavering support of the university project. When I first arrived at USI, I wondered why the Academy of Architecture was situated in Mendrisio rather than with the other faculties in Lugano. However, I learnt that this unique decision played a significant role in the expansion of Ticino's university system, with Bellinzona also joining soon after. The answer to my question was found in a recent book by Montorfani and Baranzini, which details the history of the university. I quote: "In 1993, Mario Botta examined in detail a number of sites scattered throughout the canton [...] From a strictly logistical point of view, the Palazzo Turconi solution did not stand out above the others [...] If this became the home of the new school, it was due to a number of reasons: the proximity to the Italian border, the prompt and generous willingness of the Mendrisio municipality, plus the symbolic and aesthetic values of the neoclassical building designed by architect Fontana." Botta therefore chose Mendrisio for its openness, the generosity of its people, its history and its beauty: characteristics that distinguish Mendrisiotto and make it the ideal location for a school that, in just 26 years, has earned a leading role in the international scene, bringing the world to Mendrisio - with over 800 students choosing to study here every year - and the name of Mendrisio to the world. Thank you very much for your attention and warm welcome. Happy First of August!