Around 600 academics from around the world have signed a petition asking for the re-instatement of Iris Ritzmann, a University of Zurich professor, after she was sacked amid accusations of giving confidential information to journalists concerning a colleague.
The move comes two days after the resignation of the university’s rector, Andreas Fischer, over the affair. Fischer said in a statement that he took “ultimate responsibility” for the situation and that his decision was “in the interest of the university”.
Ritzmann, a professor at the university’s Institute for the History of Medicine, was dismissed from her position on October 29. She stands accused of providing confidential documents to the media, detailing criticism of Christoph Mörgeli, the head of the University’s Medical History Museum at the time and also a rightwing Swiss People’s Party parliamentarian.
The petition, which was printed as an advert in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper on Friday, claims that she “almost single-handedly maintained scientific standards at the institute over many years and under the most adverse of circumstances”.
Put together by a group of her academic peers from the Universities of Lausanne, Zurich and Innsbruck, among others, it asks for her reinstatement, for “deeply rooted” problems at the institute to be made public and for an explanation into if and why the Zurich public prosecutor had been given access to university correspondence metadata such as emails.
The prosecutor had been called in by the university to investigate Ritzmann for breach of confidentiality.
The Mörgeli affair began last year when information from an internal report into the medical history museum was published in the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper. In it the university criticised Mörgeli’s role as curator at the museum.
A controversial figure, the politician then claimed he was bullied by colleagues and lacked support because of his political beliefs. Mörgeli was subsequently dismissed from his position.
The ongoing saga has now led to fears for the university’s reputation. One of the academics who started the petition, Philipp Sarasin, a professor of history at the University of Zurich, told Swiss public radio that the situation was already “devastating”.
“There are colleagues who say ‘we won’t work together with the University of Zurich anymore’,” he added.
The University of Zurich also announced on Wednesday that the circumstances of Ritzmann’s dismissal would be investigated.
swissinfo.ch and agencies