Provost receives German Order of Merit

(Edmonton) The University of Alberta has an enviable position in North America, having established an unrivalled status in engaging with associations and elite universities in one of Europe’s strongest countries.

And now, German president Christian Wulff and German ambassador to Canada Georg Witschel have shown their country’s appreciation by recognizing two U of A administrators with awards.

Close to 100 people were in attendance June 4 to witness ambassador Witschel present Carl Amrhein, provost and vice-president (academic), with the Officer´s Cross of the Order of Merit and present Britta Baron, vice-provost and associate vice-president (international), the German Canadian Friendship Prize.  

That came after President Wulff signed the Bundesverdienstkreuz—Order of Merit—bestowing on Amrhein a rare honour. The acknowledgement, says U of A chancellor Linda Hughes, ranks alongside the Order of Canada.

“To give you some sense of the magnitude of this honour, let me tell you that the Bundesverdienstkreuz is the Federal Republic of Germany’s highest tribute paid to individuals for outstanding service paid to the nation,” she said. “For those who know Carl, we know him to be a person of great energy and integrity. His devotion to excellence in higher education and research both here in Alberta and around the world is second to none.”

Witschel says Amrhein’s work is an example of fruitful co-operation.

“It is more than programs and projects, more than agreements and treaties. The real basis for co-operation is the determination and courage of extraordinary personalities like you, Dr. Amrhein, who have a vision, take courageous decisions and who join in their efforts for a common goal, and that common goal is the advancement of international scientific collaboration,” Witschel said. 

“For you, Dr. Amrhein, your understanding of fostering international co-operation is more than just the mobility of people and ideas and gaining knowledge. It is also building mutual understanding and respect.” 

Amrhein’s commitment to international engagements spans more than two decades, starting at the University of Toronto where he helped establish a Joint Initiative for German Studies.

The Helmholtz-Alberta Initiative, growing student exchanges between Alberta and German universities, a vibrant partnership between the university and the Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich, and the German–Canadian Centre for Innovation and Research are examples of the more than two dozen partnerships Witschel credits Amrhein with fostering.

“Without your vital support, the GCCIR would not have been established. And what has been achieved up to now gives us every reason to be optimistic, when we think about its future,” Witschel said.

Bernd Reuscher, Germany’s honorary consul and GCCIR director, says Amrhein is a great partner, astute at creating frameworks for successful engagements. Chancellor emeritus Eric Newell agrees, noting Amrhein has tremendous ability to create environments that foster great partnerships.

“He’s action-oriented, dead set against writing long reports that just gather dust on the shelf,” Newell said. “The deans love working with Carl because he takes action and gives them the freedom to come up with their ideas. The students love him and our international partners do too. Carl’s got good visionary and leadership initiatives, and he knows how to reach across cultural lines. That’s a unique talent.”  

Amrhein told the audience that internationalization is a need that must be met.

“For Canada, Alberta, Edmonton and this institution to achieve all that it is capable of achieving, we must be deeply engaged around the world,” he said. “At the level of faculty, staff and students and at the level of cultural understanding across the entire academy, the work continues and it will continue with increased intensity as the world becomes ever more competitive.”

Amrhein credited Baron, his wife Ellen, former German ambassadors and Reuscher, among several others who have shared his vision, passion and understanding, for creating opportunities for international engagements. “This means a great deal to me and my family.”

Witschel said Baron is a woman who is multi-talented, very active, dedicated and devoted. “She has accomplished, in many areas, a lot to bring science institutions, researchers and students, and others in Germany and Alberta together,” he says.

Baron has brought to the U of A a decades-long record of connecting German institutions with foreign counterparts. She says the U of A stands unrivalled in its partnerships with Germany, which includes programs with Germany’s top two institutions.

“I can’t think of any other university, even in the U.S., let alone research-intensive universities in Canada, that would have such a commitment and at the same time be so successful in interacting with Germany on all levels, including the highest levels of government and academia,” she said.

Newell adds that the U of A has been taking noted strides from being a strong regional leader to taking a prominent role on the world stage.

“I’ve seen it moving steadily up to becoming a world-class university, recognized internationally. And what I would say about world-class universities is they lead social change, they don’t follow it. And Carl takes that responsibility on, when so many other people want to sit back and say we’d wait and see where the world takes us. Carl doesn’t wait. He knows what he wants to do with internationalization.”