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Technology institute Prestigious Swiss university sacks ‘bullying’ professor

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Zurich's Federal Institute for Technology says it has cleaned up the way that doctoral students are supervised.

(© Keystone / Georgios Kefalas)

One of Switzerland’s top universities has followed through on its threat to sack a professor following allegations of bullying.

The request to fire a professor from the former Institute for Astronomy at Zurich’s Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) has been accepted, the ETH Board communicatedexternal link on Monday. 

The ETH Board, which oversees the ETH Zurich and its sister institution EPFL, made the decision after "a thorough examination of the facts of the case".

This marks the first occasion in the ETH Zurich’s history that a professor has been dismissed from their post, according to the Swiss news agency Keystone-SDA.

ETH Zurich had criticised the female professor’s leadership style and on Monday said the university was committed to the policy of “respectful interaction with one another”. The professor’s days at ETH Zurich had looked to be numbered when an investigation into her behaviour recommended last November to terminate her employment.

The unnamed professor, who founded the university’s Institute for Astronomy with her husband in 2002, had been accused of subjecting students to condescending requests and late-night badgering about minor issues, according to the NZZ am Sonntag, which broke the story. 

The alleged bullying, which came to light in February 2017 following allegations by several doctoral students, extends back more than ten years. 

The Institute for Astronomy was shut down in August 2017 and parts of it integrated into the new Institute for Particle Physics and Astrophysicsexternal link

Last week, two external investigations cleared the ETH Zurich of accusations concerning governance, funding and gender bias. But one report made some recommendations for improvements in the processes for fund allocation and top appointments. 

ETH Zurich says it has learned the its lessons and has tightened up protocols for the future supervision of doctorate students.

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