Looking 150 years ahead sustainably: The University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna celebrated its founding anniversary on October 14.

Looking 150 years ahead sustainably: The University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna celebrated its founding anniversary.

Anniversary finale on October 14 with numerous congratulations from the world of politics, Contemporary Art from the Bundesimmobiliengesellschaft, a powerful celebratory speech by K. P. Liessmann and special birthday gifts.

In 1872, a small agricultural and forestry university opened its doors for the first time in Palais Schönborn in Laudongasse in Vienna's 8th district. 150 years later, it now celebrated its round anniversary as the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna (BOKU) and its rapid rise to become one of the most modern life sciences universities in Europe. Numerous guests from politics and science turned out to congratulate the birthday child BOKU.

Rector Eva Schulev-Steindl began the ceremony in the ballroom of the Gregor Mendel House by tracing the historical path of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna to take stock of its success after its first 150 years. "The founding of BOKU has borne rich fruit: not only has it provided many students with a sound, practice-oriented and at the same time research-based education, but it has also produced a large number of prominent graduates. In these 150 years, it has also provided numerous researchers with good and stimulating working conditions - as evidenced by awards such as ERC grants or top positions in the rankings of the so-called "highly cited researchers".

Congratulations from politics

Senate Councillor Beatrix Rauscher, representing Mayor Michael Ludwig, conveyed the congratulations of the City of Vienna. "BOKU is a fixed component of education and research activity in Vienna. Students enjoy a highly professional and comprehensive education, but also learn to question the usual, to see controversy as enrichment and to take responsibility. The City of Vienna therefore greatly appreciates employing many graduates as staff," said Rauscher, who is herself a BOKU alumna.

As a congratulator for the "success story of BOKU", the governor of Lower Austria, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, then intervened: "BOKU plays a central role in the topic of research and science in Lower Austria." She said she was proud that Lower Austria has been able to maintain close cooperation with BOKU for more than 35 years, because BOKU has played a very significant role in enabling Lower Austria to develop into a science and research state.

Climate Protection Minister Leonore Gewessler then emphasized the great importance and unique selling point of BOKU in her video greeting. "BOKU's approach to develop solutions related to specific topics and to address societal challenges speaks for lived interdisciplinarity. This approach enables an extremely valuable competence development in the field of sustainable resources. In this context, the thematic diversity underlines the importance of BOKU for Austria as a science location."

At the ceremony, Minister of Agriculture Norbert Totschnig also emphasized the innovative power that BOKU has possessed for 150 years: "If we look back at BOKU's history, it has always been one step ahead and committed to a critical discourse between all three pillars of sustainability - the economic, the ecological and the social."

As he walked up the stairs to the ceremonial hall at the Gregor Mendel House, he wondered, said Science Minister Martin Polaschek, "what the first students, teachers and researchers might have thought, what their goals and expectations were - and how they have changed over time." BOKU, he said, is not only the first and only university in Austria that has been centrally dedicated to sustainability since its founding, but "it is one of the best sustainability universities in Europe, comprehensively addressing the safeguarding and shaping of our living space in research and teaching."

Talk with the chairpersons of the University Council, Senate and ÖH.

The focus was on the future of BOKU. When University Council Chairman Kurt Weinberger looks into the future, his assessment is clear: BOKU has an enormous opportunity. "Who has the opportunity to offer a core competence that is in demand worldwide?" asked Weinberger. "If BOKU did not exist today, it would have to be founded tomorrow."

In order to be able to cope with the major crises of our time, social discourse and education are needed, ÖH BOKU President Michael Pinter emphasized. "We young students can, want, but also have to find solutions," said Pinter, therefore education should not be cut. Because "we learn at BOKU not only to solve one crisis in one way, but many crises in many ways."

Newly elected Senate Chair Roland Ludwig explained the major challenges in the next three years: "We are working on studies that can be completed faster by our students, we want to reduce dropout rates, and we want to push the internationalization of BOKU."

Keynote speech: Responsibility of science

In his speech, philosopher Konrad Paul Liessmann addressed the responsibility of science in times of change: "Even if the development is moving in the direction of strategically networked life sciences and comprehensive biosciences, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the founding of this university, we may once again refer to its beautiful, original name: 'k. k. Hochschule für Bodencultur'. The significance of this name only becomes clear when one realizes that until the 19th century the term "culture" was generally understood in the sense of soil culture. The term "cultural landscape" still bears witness to this today. Culture and cultivation therefore also mean, in a figurative sense, the processing, utilization, modification, shaping, and creation of nature. This also applies to the sciences involved. They have a threefold responsibility: to nature, and more comprehensively to the biosphere, which they want to open up scientifically and shape practically; to society, which sometimes has completely divergent demands on the way it deals with nature; and to themselves: Scientific culture also means holding on to the forms of rational world development and the principles of enlightenment in a time that, due to crises and uncertainties, tends to slide into the esoteric and irrational, diffuse and emotional, ideological and enthusiastic."

Three very special birthday presents

The Federal Real Estate Company BIG artistically accompanied BOKU's celebratory year with temporary interventions (video: youtu.be/rSA3rltq8_E) and brought sustainability themes directly into the urban space with this special birthday present. "We believe in addressing things through art," explains BIG ART project manager Regina Barta. It turned out that inviting artists* to BOKU was a "perfect match," recalls BIG ART advisory board member Cornelia Offergeld, because "art has always dealt with central life issues and so does BOKU." For BOKU's anniversary, artist Folke Köbberling developed the art project "Lasting Sign of Jubilee." The focus is on sustainable topics such as circular economy or unsealing. "My wish for BOKU's 150th anniversary is that Peter-Jordan-Strasse will be unsealed," says Köbberling. A wish echoed by Veronika Krenn of the artist* collective bb15. "We wanted to stop the traffic - the avalanche of metal - with our avalanche protection sculptures," thus a large, calmed BOKU campus was created, at least temporarily.

Two more presentations followed: Honorary senator and ambassador Günther Granser has great loyalty to BOKU (Granser Research Award), and is also an art lover with a special interest in 19th century paintings. "While browsing through an auction catalog, I suddenly spied a painting of a house that looked very familiar. On closer inspection, it turned out to be BOKU's Wilhelm Exner House, which used to be the hospital of the Vienna Merchants' Association, painted by the well-known artist Erwin Pendl, who also worked for the World's Fair in Vienna. And at the same moment I thought to myself: This is a great present for the 150th anniversary of BOKU - and I immediately bought it at an auction."

The next well-wisher was Walter Oblin, Deputy CEO of Österreichische Post AG, who presented Rector Eva Schulev-Steindl with a philatelic delicacy: the special "150 Years of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna" stamp, 350,000 of which will be issued. "After all, the Austrian Post and BOKU have one thing in common: they were both founded during the monarchy, and both have managed to look ahead to the future," Oblin said. The special issue stamp is available now at all post offices.

"The University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences Vienna, our Alma Mater Viridis, has now turned 150 years old - thanks to its forward-looking topics and competencies and, above all, the people who work at it, it is now younger and more dynamic than ever," concluded Rector Eva Schulev-Steindl.

The BOKU ceremony can be viewed at https://boku.ac.at/die-boku-feiert-150-jahre/festakt