The awakening of the 1990s
Following the negative outcome of the referendum for the proposed university on 9 July 1978, the Faculty of Theology gradually expanded the range of courses it offered. In 1993, a small Humanities Faculty was created and, together with the Faculty of Theology, became the Hochschule Luzern (forerunner of the University of Lucerne).
In the 1990s, Brigitte Mürner-Gilli, a CVP politician and director of education in Lucerne, championed the proponents of a university. Her aim was to present the university proposal as a logical expansion of the regional and national education system. She was also able to garner allies in liberal political parties and she established an influential lobby for the idea of a university in Lucerne.
However, the Hochschule Luzern was almost closed in 1997, due to savings measures by the canton.
You can find out why this did not happen in the audio contribution or in the complete text "The awakening of the 1990s".
Brigitte Mürner-Gilli became the spokeswoman for supporters of a university in the 1990s. The Director of the Littau Music School and cantonal councillor of the Christian Democratic People's Party was elected to the Government Council in 1987. In her new position, she took over the education department. Mürner never made a secret of her support for a university. After the 1978 defeat, she had drawn the conclusion that a university in Lucerne would only stand a chance if, in her words, a new ‘university project became the goal of all influential forces in the Canton of Lucerne’. Put simply, this meant that the ambitious project had to be freed from the political burdens of the Lucerne cultural struggle and from the notoriety of being a denominational university. At the same time, Brigitte Mürner endeavoured to present the university project as a logical step in the expansion of educational offerings, regionally and nationally. Carefully, but single-mindedly, she pushed the project forward. She found allies both within and outside the university setting.
From 1981 onwards the Faculty of Theology successively expanded its range of courses: the Institute of Social Ethics was founded, followed by the Institute for Jewish-Christian Research and later the Institute of Philosophy; and finally in 1989 a Chair of History was attached to it. In so doing the Faculty of Theology offered, for the first time in its 400-year existence, a discipline that had nothing to do with theology. Professor Walter Kirchschläger was a driving force behind establishing this subject. He took up his first term of office as Rector of the Faculty of Theology in 1990. His aim was to establish a second, Humanities Faculty.
There was, again, a sense of optimism around the idea of a University of Lucerne. Peter Schulz, the director of the media training centre, the MAZ in the municipality of Horw took advantage of this to promote the idea of a university. The timing was favourable: in Switzerland, the anniversary year 1991 was approaching, this would mark 700 years of the Swiss Confederation, and many people thought this would be a good opportunity. Peter Schulz knocked on the door of the Director of Education with the idea to hold a ‘summer academy’ to mark the anniversary. After some initial ‘brainstorming’ at the MAZ's Villa Krämerstein in Horw, the idea of a top-class working group took concrete form. On board were the Chiefs of Staff of the Education Directorates of the City and Canton of Lucerne, as well as representatives from business and science, politics and journalism. At the end of October 1989, Peter Schulz was able to present the project, entitled ‘Academy 91’. The guiding idea behind ‘Academy 91’ was ‘to bring university thinking to the region, to make it palatable to the people and thus to anchor the university idea in the region in a new way’.
The university idea now had an influential and powerful lobby. Meanwhile, in the political world, things started to move again. The Director of Education, Brigitte Mürner, pleaded for an expansion of the concept university to other higher education institutions. As she put it: ‘the term university includes both university and non-university institutions of tertiary education – thus explicitly including today's higher technical colleges, which will develop into universities of applied sciences’. And then the Liberals also made some constructive contributions, expressly committing themselves to the university idea with their document: ‘10 theses on the expansion of higher education in Lucerne’.
But then the advocates of a university suffered a severe blow: in 1997 a parliamentary commission recommended that the university be closed down for economic reasons. The Government Council did not want to go along with this – but demanded a ‘concept for the economic operation of the University of Lucerne within one year’. Now it was clear: it was serious. A working group led by Markus Hodel, then head of the Tertiary Education and Science Department within the Department of Education, came to the conclusion that a university with three faculties could be operated on a cost-neutral basis. Government Councillor Brigitte Mürner and Rector of the Faculty of Theology Walter Kirchschläger pushed the pace. They were supported in politics by an ‘inter-party working group’ under the co-presidency of Christian Democrat Alois Hartmann, Liberal Karl Hofstetter, and Socialist, Hans Widmer. The working group also included Frank Nager and Peter Schulz, the president and managing director of ‘Academy 91’ as well as representatives of the Department of Education. The politicians and education experts received broad support from a university association founded in 1997. Presiding over this university association was the freethinking Council of States member and entrepreneur Helen Leumann. On 7th July, Government Councillor Brigitte Mürner presented a concept for the University of Lucerne; the Government Council envisioned a university with the Faculties of Theology, Humanities and Law.
This was the farewell gift of the first woman on the Lucerne Government Council. In 1999, after twelve years in office, Mürner did not run for re-election. Brigitte Mürner had taken over somewhat of a shambles after the debacle of the failed vote to found a university in 1978, but she was able to hand over a well tilled field to her successor, the freethinker Ulrich Fässler.