"Professor Piper has achieved a great deal during his six-year term as President of the University of Oldenburg. He is handing over an attractive university with truly unique features to his successor." With these words, Lower Saxony's Minister of Science and Culture Björn Thümler paid tribute to the University of Oldenburg's outgoing President Professor Hans Michael Piper at his farewell ceremony today, which was also broadcast via livestream due to Covid-related restrictions. Among the other guests attending the ceremony were the Mayor of Oldenburg Jürgen Krogmann, the Chairman of the University Council Jörg Waskönig, and the Chairman of the University Society Oldenburg (Universitätsgesellschaft Oldenburg e.V., UGO), Hon.-Prof. Dr Werner Brinker. Piper will hand over the office of University President to Prof. Dr Ralph Bruder, a professor of ergonomics at Darmstadt University of Technology, at the end of the month. Bruder was also present at the farewell ceremony held at the lecture hall centre.
Thümler stressed that the University had "made important advances" in many fields under Piper's leadership, including "the expansion of the university medicine in cooperation with the University of Groningen, the extension of its Special Needs Education programme, and good progress in the University's outstanding areas of research, such as hearing research, marine sciences and computer science." He also pointed to increased collaboration with numerous non-university partners, a number of which have established facilities close to the University in recent years.
Mayor Krogmann praised the intensified and fruitful cooperation between the city of Oldenburg and the University, noting: "Our close personal relationship has contributed greatly to this". He commended Piper's especially notable achievements in developing the University of Oldenburg's medical faculty: "Without his strong commitment, we would not be as far along as we are today in establishing and expanding the medical research and training." Krogmann mentioned the Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine Biodiversity (HIFMB) as a particularly important affiliate in Oldenburg, noting that the very close collaboration between the University and the city had resulted in another major success here. "Professor Piper has contributed greatly to strengthening Oldenburg as a whole as a research location."
Piper's term of office coincided with 18 months of the coronavirus pandemic, which has presented the University with unprecedented challenges in research, teaching and knowledge transfer. Since he took office in 2015, the University's Special Needs Education department has grown into one of the largest academic centres in this field in all Germany. The University's still young – and growing – medical programme recently received a positive assessment from the German Council of Science and Humanities. The University has also secured generous funding from several key programmes, which will allow it to continue to provide innovative impulses in research, teaching and knowledge transfer. The University's newly published "Progress Report 2015-2021" lists several centrally coordinated projects in the areas of teaching and transfer which receive millions in funding, as well as awards within professorship programmes and numerous successful applications for the establishment of German Research Foundation (DFG) Collaborative Research Centres, Research Training Groups and junior research groups.
Other key developments during Piper's presidency are the launch of the historical "Prize Papers" project, which is receiving funding from the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities over a 20-year period, as well as continued funding for the "Hearing4all" Cluster of Excellence in the area of hearing research. Piper also sees the research and development capacities of the entire northwest region as having been strengthened now that – in addition to the HIFMB – two institutes in the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) network are based close to the Oldenburg campus, as well as part of the Lower Saxony branch of the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI). The strong innovative potential of the University and the region is also reflected in the University's impressive track record in the area of academic start-ups. It has consistently secured a top place in the nation-wide Start-up Radar (Gründungsradar) ranking list in recent years.
Over the last six years, the University has grown, not only in terms of student numbers, but also as regards its physical dimensions. New university buildings include the Experimental Auditorium and the research building for turbulence and wind energy systems (WindLab) on the Wechloy campus, the new Language Centre on the Haarentor campus, and the Centre for Marine Sensors in Wilhelmshaven. Although the University is still working on securing the funding for the urgently needed new teaching and research building for human medicine, the initial construction phase has now been approved – also thanks to the backing of the regional stakeholders.
In his speech, the outgoing president described the extension of the cooperation agreement with the University of Groningen, signed in autumn 2020, as the greatest challenge but also one of the highlights of his term of office. He said that the University of Groningen had actively supported its partner in Oldenburg, acting as the midwife of the newly established European Medical School Oldenburg-Groningen and contributing to its development ever since. He also mentioned the University's structural planning, which, in collaboration with the six schools, had been successfully concluded. The goal of this restructuring, he said, was to integrate the "almost infinite wealth of ideas of our academics" into an even more powerful organization in order to further advance the University's academic success. The effort had succeeded, he concluded: "Thanks to the good coordination within the University, we have been able to win practically all the major competitions in research and teaching in recent years. Let's see if anyone can emulate that!"
Vita: Born in Kiel in 1952, Prof. Dr Hans Michael Piper studied medicine, physics and philosophy at the University of Göttingen. After earning his diploma in physics, he went on to complete doctorates in medicine and philosophy. In 1985, he earned his habilitation in physiology and then took up a professorship at the Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf. In 1994, following research stays in England and Canada, Piper accepted a professorship in physiology at the University of Gießen, where he was Director of the Institute of Physiology for many years and held the positions of Vice Dean and Dean of the Department of Medicine, as well as being the Founding Director of the Giessen Graduate Centre for the Life Sciences (GGL). From 2008 to 2014, Piper was Rector of the University of Düsseldorf, and then Director of the Institute for Molecular Medicine III at the University Hospital of Düsseldorf, before taking office as President of the University of Oldenburg in August 2015.
Prof. Dr Hans Gerd Nothwang, Dean of School VI Medicine and Health Sciences
"The multi-layered challenges of steering a university were always analysed razor-sharp by Professor Piper, who broke down a complex whole into its individual parts to identify what was essential and to start right there. He always consistently thought through all the options before committing to a decision – and was always willing to revise it if it proved not to be on target. We have all benefited greatly from him."
Jörg Waskönig, Chair of the University Council
"During Professor Piper's term of office, important decisions were made, which he promoted with knowledge, drive and perseverance – for example, the further development of the Medical School or the university as a university for start-ups. His work and his style as president were characterised by a high level of competence, humanity and efforts to reach a consensus. The university could rely on him!"
Hon.-Prof. Dr Werner Brinker, UGO Board Chairman
"The cooperation with President Piper was characterised by open-mindedness, trust and mutual appreciation. As the Universitätsgesellschaft Oldenburg (UGO), we have always found an open ear with him and have thus been able to realise a close shoulder-to-shoulder relationship with the Presidential Board and our university. We would like to continue this form of close cooperation in the future. Only then can such success stories as the 'AUFTAKT' event be written."
University President Hans Michael Piper also used the ceremony on the occasion of his farewell to honour particularly deserving members of the University. They received the "President's Badge of Honour".
For her services to the university, Piper honoured the hydrogeologist Prof. Dr Gudrun Massmann as spokesperson of the research group "Dynamics of the deep subsurface of high-energy beaches" funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). With the acquisition of "DynaDeep", she has rendered outstanding service to the university, he said.
In recognition of their special services during the pandemic, the IT services, led by Herbert Greis, received the badge of honour. They had "created the IT infrastructure urgently needed for digital study operations in a very short time", said Piper. "Without the quick and competent action of the IT services, studying and teaching at the university would have been severely impaired during the time of the pandemic."
The President also paid tribute to the Workplace Safety Unit headed by Robert Hentschke for its special services during the pandemic. He praised their great commitment as a central advisory and coordinating body in matters of hygiene and occupational safety, without which regular operations in administration, research and teaching would not have been possible.
As Dean, who has been at the helm of School VI Medicine and Health Sciences for a good four years, the neurogeneticist Prof. Dr Hans Gerd Nothwang received a badge of honour. He has further developed the university medicine "with great energy and the highest level of competence", Piper emphasised. "For the excellent evaluation of the location by the German Council of Science and Humanities, his formative leadership was of central importance."
Piper also honoured the three part-time vice presidents who have been part of the university management since the beginning of 2020. The Vice President for Graduate Education and Quality Management, Prof. Dr Annett Thiele, had established the strategic field of action "Diversity" for the Executive Board, had also consistently driven forward the implementation of the central plan for equal oppportunities and had set new impulses for the promotion of early career researchers.
As Vice President for Research, Transfer and Digitalisation, Prof. Dr Martin Georg Fränzle initiated a "trend-setting" digitalisation strategy for the university, said Piper. He also laid the foundations for central information infrastructures for research and prepared the application for possible future Oldenburg clusters of excellence in the next round of the federal government's excellence strategy.
As Vice President for Study, Teaching and International Affairs, Prof. Dr Verena Pietzner led the major university project of system accreditation. During the pandemic, she took on a central coordination function for teaching in all schools and, according to the president, "secured teaching at the university through outstanding professional leadership".
Piper also paid tribute to the full-time Vice President for Administration and Finance, Jörg Stahlmann. Stahlmann has played a formative role for the university over the past six years, Piper told. He is committed to modern services, forward-looking process and project management in administration, and systematic financial management. In addition, outstanding achievements in the management of Corona's operational crisis management "prove him to be an excellent university manager," Piper emphasized.