Hannes Richter

CenterAustria Celebrates

Hannes Richter
10th Anniversary of Academic Exchange

CenterAustria_Busek.jpgThe creation of CenterAustria at the University of New Orleans (UNO) in 1997 is the progeny of an over thirty year model Austrian-American partnership centered around New Orleans. Beginning in the fall of 2007, a year-long series of lectures, conferences, art exhibits and concerts will celebrate CenterAustria’s 10th Anniversary. Since the shocking impact of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and UNO measure time before and after Katrina. The effects of the most devastating disaster in American history affected some of the Center’s programs. Nevertheless, two years after cleaning up “open boxes of no longer crisp Soletti and Manner Schnitten,” Günter Bischof, the current director, and the staff of CenterAustria are again successfully administering UNO’s proliferating activities with its partner university – the Leopold-Franzens Universität Innsbruck.

Founded by Dr. Gordon “Nick” Mueller, a historian at the University of New Orleans and creator of the Summer School in Innsbruck, (see AI, July/August 2007 issue), CenterAustria has coordinated joint efforts by the University of New Orleans and the University of Innsbruck to exchange students, faculty members and professional guests. Programs such as the “Austrian Student Program” in New Orleans and the “Academic Year Abroad” in Innsbruck have enabled large numbers of students from both sides of the Atlantic to experience a different academic and cultural environment. Over many years the successful effort to organize lectures, conferences and cultural events has raised a sense of greater awareness and appreciation of Austrian and European affairs and culture in the United States. As Bischof notes, “Few transatlantic university partnerships maintain a more elaborate web of contacts than the Innsbruck-New Orleans one. The net benefits of such active and intense ‘citizen diplomacy’ between Austria and the U.S. are incalculable.”

Since its inception, some 9,000 young Americans have attended the UNO Innsbruck International Summer School organized in Innsbruck. Since 1990 each year up to 50 Innsbruck students attend Summer School classes. An additional 300 Austrian students have participated in a year long course of study at UNO, many going on to complete masters degrees and PhDs. The Austrian Student Program (ASP), a four week introduction to the American university and the Academic Year Abroad (AYA) program have enjoyed great popularity since their inception. Among these academic exchanges have been more personal forms of transatlantic cooperation, which have led to fifteen “transatlantic” marriages and thirteen children.

The Center’s History
Following the success of the UNO Innsbruck International Summer School in 1976 and subsequent programs in the years thereafter, the University of New Orleans signed a partnership agreement with the Leopold-Franzens Universität in Innsbruck in 1983. Graduate fellowships were offered to Innsbruck students by UNO, and these were reciprocated by Innsbruck stipends for UNO students. In addition there were faculty exchanges. These initiatives were followed with annual joint symposia on transatlantic topics that produce regularly published conference papers.  In 1992, the two universities began the joint publication of Contemporary Austrian Studies. The popularity and achievements of this cooperation led to the establishment of CenterAustria, which has since gone well beyond its original function as a hub for Austrian students during their stay at UNO.

In its founding year, CenterAustria initiated an Academic Year Abroad (AYA) for U.S. students for either semester or year-long study in Innsbruck. The Center also created other educational initiatives. In 1998, the Center organized its “50th Anniversary of the Marshall Plan in Austria” conference in cooperation with the “European Recovery Program Fund” in Vienna. This conference inspired the ERP Fund to provide seed money for the “Austrian Marshall Plan Anniversary Foundation” and to establish the Marshall Plan Chair for Austrian and European Studies at the University of New Orleans in 2000. Additionally, in 2002 the Austrian Ministry of Science and Research agreed to fund an annual scholarship for an Austrian doctoral student at UNO. During a recent post-Katrina reorganization of UNO, CenterAustria was transferred to the College of Liberal Arts under Dean Susan Krantz. Anton Pelinka, Erich Thöni, and Franz Mathis all have served as the Senate representatives for UNO programs at the University of Innsbruck.

As a result of the events initiated by the two universities ties between Innsbruck and New Orleans have been strengthened and have culminated in the origin of a Sister City Agreement. An Arts Exchange program was created in 2000, whereby Tyrolese artists display their art at the University of New Orleans’ Fine Arts Gallery and New Orleans’ student artists exhibit their work at Innsbruck’s Andechs Gallerie. To further support this program, short artist-in-residence stays have been added to introduce visiting artists to the artistic communities in both cities.

Following Hurricane Katrina CenterAustria’s activities and Austrian-U.S. ties were strengthened by the $ 1 million donation offered by the ERP Fund of Austria for student exchanges and for establishing an International Studies Program. Altogether, Austrian friends and associates have donated $ 1.15 million in various forms to the University. Additionally, Austrian universities and the University of Minnesota opened their doors to students during their time of need so that they could continue their education.

Papers and Publications by CenterAustria
In 1992, University of Innsbruck political scientist Anton Pelinka and University of New Orleans historian, Günter Bischof began the academic journal series, Contemporary Austrian Studies. Each volume is dedicated to a specific topic, including essays, forums, historiography, roundtables, review essays, book reviews and a yearly review of Austrian politics. As of 2008, a total of fifteen volumes have been published covering Austria since 1918 and designed to complement the Austrian History Yearbook which traditionally has concentrated more on Habsburg history. Volume XVI focusing on “The Changing Austrian Voter” has just been published. Other publications by CenterAustria include, Studies in Austrian and Central European History and Culture. A CenterAustria Newsletter was posted online on the Center’s home page and in 2006 a new series, TRANSATLANTICA, was launched in Innsbruck.

CenterAustria Celebrates 10th Anniversary
To celebrate CenterAustria’s Tenth Anniversary on February 7-8, an address was delivered on the topic, “Nation Building in the Balkans” by Dr. Erhard Busek, former Austrian Vice Chancellor and Coordinator of the Stability Pact for the Balkans. The festivities were attended by Austrian dignitaries, including Austrian Ambassador to the United States Eva Nowotny, the new Rektor of the partner University of Innsbruck Karlheinz Töchterle, as well as the University of Innsbruck “special UNO ambassador” Franz Mathis.

A View from the Inside
Writing a personal account of my experience with CenterAustria in only a few words is a difficult undertaking, but I will try to say this: During my seven years or so in New Orleans, the Center’s impact on a personal level has always been significant because of its people – from the welcome opportunity to gossip for a couple of minutes in your mother tongue to seeking help with University paperwork or enjoying a good cup of coffee in between. One gets used to CenterAustria simply being there, serving as an anchor, as an advisor and as a friend; it is hard to imagine my experience in New Orleans without it. But apart from companionship, CenterAustria also left its imprint on a professional level as many roads cross there and the Center proved to be a welcome advisor in networking and career advancement. Its many visitors, faculty, and students contributed to an enriching environment both academic and personal, and many acquaintances have grown into friendships over the years, not limited to New Orleans, but across the United States and Austria. As such, CenterAustria did much more than to live up to a promise of being a bridge-builder over the past ten years; as a contemporary since its founding day I can testify to its impact on my life, an impact for which I am grateful.

Hannes Richter, a native of Innsbruck, Austria, who holds a PhD in political science from UNO, lived in New Orleans from 1997 to 2005, where he pursued graduate studies in political science and has maintained the CenterAustria homepage since 2000.