Eduard Pfyffer – a small academy was the goal
In the 19th century, the importance of academic education for producing citizens who could meet the growing demands of a modern society was widely recognised. In Reformation cities such as Zurich, Bern, Geneva, Lausanne and Neuchâtel, universities were created from specialised colleges called academies.
Eduard Pfyffer (1783-1834) was a member of the Lucerne education board with an early liberal outlook who worked systematically towards establishing an academy. He was the eldest son of a senior officer in the papal Swiss Guard.
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Up until the early 19th century, there was only one university in Switzerland: the University of Basel, founded in 1460 with the consent of Pope Pius II. Hardly had the age of the bourgeoisie begun, did the parliaments of the reformed cantons launch one university after another: 1833 in Zurich, 1834 in Bern, 1873 in Geneva, 1890 in Lausanne and 1909 in Neuchâtel. In 1889, the country's first Catholic university opened its doors in Fribourg. Everywhere, those responsible for politics recognized how indispensable academic education was for citizens to master the mounting challenges of a modern society. In the reformed cities, the universities emerged from high schools, called academies. These academies trained pastors and magistrates in theology, classical languages and philosophy. Around 1815, the city of Lucerne also boasted a 240-year-old high school, which served as a Higher Educational Institution. After 1816, an education counsellor with an early liberal attitude, systematically worked towards establishing an academy: this was Eduard Pfyffer (1783-1834), the eldest son of a papal guardsman.
In the middle of the Restoration, Eduard Pfyffer made a name for himself as a visionary educational reformer. He was keenly aware that Lucerne’s higher education system could not compete qualitatively with those in the reformed cities. Higher education in Lucerne was thus in danger of falling behind, which is why Pfyffer wanted to make the Lyceum of the Higher Education School fit for the new era. This is the institution at which conservative and sometimes even reactionary theology professors continued to set the tone, even after the former Jesuit College had been converted into a state school (1774). In 1819, and against strong opposition, Pfyffer implemented a major reorganization of the Lyceum and high school. At his instigation, unpopular or incapable professors were dismissed or retired. At the same time, he had three new chairs created at the Lyceum's Philosophical Department. These were filled with non-theologians, which was a novelty for Lucerne.
The chair for philosophy and history went to Ignaz Paul Vital Troxler, while Joseph Eutych Kopp took over the chair for classical philology, and Kasimir Pfyffer the chair for law. In 1829, a polytechnic department was added. The Lyceum was now almost an academy and, like elsewhere, it could have become the nucleus to found a university. But the social conditions would not allow for that. In the canton of Lucerne, there was a particularly ferocious power struggle between Catholic conservatives and liberals. These two groups held completely incompatible social visions and very different educational ideals. In contrast to the early industrialized cantons, Lucerne was also strongly pre-industrial agrarian and Catholic. Mass poverty prevailed, and thus the financial means to establish a university were lacking. In addition, at this time most people in Lucerne considered it more important to lead a simple, godly life than to be successful and have an academic education in the emerging performance society. Lucerne's clocks ticked differently and more slowly than in the free-spirited Switzerland of factories, retailers and banks.