Petition regarding dismissal of Prof. Dr. Iris Ritzmann

Dear colleagues,
We have just heard of the dismissal of professor Iris Ritzmann by the University of Zurich.
Ritzmann was employed at the Institute of the History of medicine which includes the Museum of Medical History. The museum had been under the direction of Christoph Mörgeli, a member of the Swiss National Council. Almost a year ago Iris Ritzmann and her husband, the ethnologist and associate lecturer Eberhard Wolff, were arrested in front of their children when their house had been searched. Both spent 30 hours in custody. The prosecutor’s investigations were prompted by the suspicion that Iris Ritzmann and Eberhard Wolff had passed on the annual report of the MHIZ (!) and an expert report about the museum’s collection to the media, enabling a journalist to write a critical article about the scientific and museographic activities of Christoph Mörgeli and to have informed another journalist about the then imminent dismissal of Christoph Mörgeli. Almost eleven months have passed and the prosecutor is still investigating.

The entirely disproportionate legal investigations against Iris Ritzmann have not confirmed the substantial suspicions raised against her.

The University of Zurich nevertheless dismisses an eminent scientist after trying for more than a year to prevent her from carrying out her scientific work and to isolate her from the academy: Ritzmann had to obtain written permission from the Institute’s acting director and the legal department before she could accept invitations to lecture and to publications. Several international conferences had to be held without her contributions as a specialist in the field. The University seems unable, however, to withstand the political pressure it has experienced since Mörgeli’s dismissal.


A letter addressed to the University principal in which 60 scientists from Switzerland and abroad asked about the future of the two colleagues at the University of Zurich remained unanswered. The dismissal has now been justified by the alleged disclosure of confidential data and passwords. This is absolutely ridiculous as  Ritzman simply allowed access to the University’s learning platform which is used by 25,000 students (see the attached press release of Ritzmann).


We therefore ask you to support the attached petition. You can give your agreement by answering to

and adding a statement. 

Please sign with name, title and institution. And please feel free to distribute and collect signatures.

Press release will be published within a weeks time. 


Press Release


We, the undersigned scientists, are deeply disturbed to hear of the dismissal of Professor Dr Iris Ritzmann by the University of Zurich. We find it entirely incomprehensible that the University of Zurich could dismiss such a highly esteemed and renowned scientist.


For fifteen years (up until the appointment of a new director in 2011) Iris Ritzmann maintained the scientific work and standards at the Institute of the History of Medicine in Zurich (MHIZ) almost singlehandedly and under the most adverse conditions.  In doing so she gained the recognition of the scientific community as a notable scientist and medical historian, a fact that has found reflection in the many invitations she received as a lecturer, keynote speaker and author of original publications in peer-review journals and edited volumes.


The outstanding quality of Ritzmann’s work became also apparent recently when the University of Zurich commissioned an expert committee to examine the dissertations supervised at the MHIZ. While the supervisory activities of the former head of the Institute and of the curator were found to be largely very poor, a number of other dissertations from the Zurich Institute were considered excellent. Nobody who knows anything about the situation at Zurich would have the slightest doubt that the latter dissertations were supervised by Iris Ritzmann. The fact that the University omitted to mention this speaks volumes.


Eleven months ago, the University of Zurich suspended Iris Ritzmann pending the results of a legal investigation into the possible disclosure of the MHIZ annual report and an expert report about the collection at her Institute. In all this time the prosecutor has not released any information or evidence. The University has nevertheless maintained the suspension and massively obstructed Iris Ritzmann’s scientific work. Ritzmann was, for instance, prevented from accepting invitations to lecture without the written consent of the Institute’s acting director and the legal department and, as a result of clearly arbitrary decisions, she was unable to attend a number of international conferences.


Over and above that, the University has apparently given the public prosecutor of the Canton of Zurich access to the metadata of the email correspondence and telephone calls of University staff and journalists. Such steps are not only hugely out of proportion, they constitute an unacceptable violation of the personal rights of all scientists and faculty members of the University. We object to this violation in the strongest terms.


Whatever the charge brought against Iris Ritzmann in connection with press contacts and the passing on of information about the Institute of the History of Medicine to the press, it must be stated clearly that the university, which is funded by the taxpayer, is subject to the principle of freedom of information. As scientists who are constantly in the public eye and in communication with the press we all have regular “contact with the press.” This contact often involves a degree of disclosure of background information to journalists; how else could a press that is worthy of the name function? We don’t see it as our task to obstruct the work of the press. A university in a liberal society with a free press that is afraid of this kind of normal contact between the scientific community and the media has a fundamental problem: it is dreaming of a surveillance state.


The charges that led to Iris Ritzmann’s dismissal in no way justify the dismissal of this professor who, for many years, has done excellent work in research and teaching and has represented her subject with great personal commitment at home and abroad. It is difficult not to suspect that the University thinks it has to bow to political pressure by sacrificing a pawn. But the sacrifice is much greater than the University assumes: it not only dismisses a renowned professor but sacrifices science to politics.


In the year since this situation at the MHIZ began, the University has neglected to actively promote the standards of research and teaching. It was, however, the neglecting of these standards over many years that caused the conflict at the MHIZ, which escalated a year ago, in the first place. It is high time the University looked into this development and made it public. As long as the University tries to find easy ways out by blaming administration and staff members and glossing over past mistakes, it will not be possible to undo the damage it has caused to Medical History as a discipline and to the Swiss universities.


We strongly encourage the University of Zurich

–          To reinstitute Professor Dr Iris Ritzmann as a scientist at the University of Zurich in a position that will allow her to fully pursue her scientific work.

–          To investigate the deeply rooted problems of the MHIZ and make them public, including all relevant documents.

–          To disclose whether the public prosecutor was in fact given access to the metadata of the email correspondence and telephone calls of university staff and to explain the legitimacy of such steps.


We all appreciate the University of Zurich and many of us have worked closely with the University and its associates. We therefore hope that the University of Zurich will consider our urgent recommendations as recommendations of friends.


Im Zusammenhang mit der Entlassung von Iris Ritzmann und der Sammlung von Unterschriften möchte ich Sie auf beiliegenden Beitrag in der heutigen NZZ hinweisen, der weitere Hintergrundinformationen liefert.

Citer ce billet
Nahema Hanafi (2013, 30 octobre). Petition regarding dismissal of Prof. Dr. Iris Ritzmann. Corps et Médecine. Consulté le 18 mai 2024, à l’adresse

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