“Sometimes divergent voices are the most valuable ones”

© 2022 EPFL

© 2022 EPFL

As the new president of the EPFL Assembly, Professor Aleksandra Radenovic hopes to strengthen its role in the decision-making process and use it to make EPFL a more transparent and more inclusive place to work.

The EPFL Assembly has a new president. After four years representing the teaching staff and two as its vice-president, Aleksandra Radenovic is now at the helm of the EPFL Assembly. In an interview, Radenovic, who heads the Laboratory of Nanoscale Biology, shares how she hopes to continue the assembly’s journey towards better representation of the school’s four constitutive groups – the teaching body, the intermediate body, the student body, and the administrative and technical body. At the same time, she will continue to bolster its role in the school’s decision-making process.

You've been involved in the EPFL Assembly for several years, most recently as vice president, now as president. What first motivated you to join the assembly?

I wanted to change the perception that professors don't care about participation. We do. Sure, we are all busy running our groups and securing our budgets. But we are all in the same boat, and if the boat is headed in the wrong direction, the assembly is the place to correct course.

Why does a school like EPFL need a school assembly?

Every place needs checks and balances, and so do we. Not only from the ETH board, which gives us directives and sets our budget, but also from within. EPFL is huge, and we can’t always hear everyone’s opinions. I wish that through the assembly, we can be a voice for everyone on campus.

What are some of the assembly's most recent achievements?

I’ve listed some on the school assembly’s website – for example improvements to the Gender strategy 2021-2024 and the partial revision of the Directive concerning doctoral studies – to show that it makes sense to give your time, and that you can make a difference.

Where would you say the EPFL Assembly has fallen short?

We’ve had the impression that the school’s direction would often discuss new directives, form working groups, and only ask us for feedback once they had already formulated the teams. For us, this has been frustrating. We could easily avoid friction caused by stopping directives that are not in line with our position by being involved from the start. As scientists, if we try to participate in a process and don’t see an outcome, we’ll eventually stop participating.

Can you talk about your strategic objectives as president? How do you hope to shape the assembly during your mandate?

We need to change the experimental conditions. I see that we’ve started to do so. Working with my predecessors, Caroline Vandevyver and Fabio Zulliani, in my past mandates set us on a path where we are trying to be more proactive with the direction. It isn’t yet a done deal; we are still at the beginning. But, as I stated in my candidature, I would like to stay on this course, increase participation through positive examples, and grow our impact by being more involved with the direction, not just in consultation, but also before directives and bylaws are put forward to consultation.

What else do you have in mind?

We think the recent elections had better participation than those before them. That is a good sign. But we still have a path to go with some of our faculty councils. Some work beautifully as very active and proactive partners. Others are dysfunctional. My goal would be meet with them to explain their roles, draw them in, and show them how important they are to the school.

Are any concrete topics and events on the agenda for the coming months?

We will be hosting the yearly joint meeting with the ETH Board and ETH Zurich’s school assembly, Dialog, on November 8. There, we hope to learn from mistakes and how to implement best practices from both sides, keeping in mind that, despite our common mission, we are different schools with some differences that we need to consider.

Then, there is the strategic plan for 2025-2028. We want to use it to showcase that school assemblies can be involved in defining strategy from an early stage. Here we will call for more participation through the school assembly in shaping the document. The strategic plan is about the future, but it's also about our actions today.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I want to emphasize that it isn't about who the president of the EPFL Assembly is; it's about the EPFL Assembly mission that ensures transparency and participation. It's about continuity, about this experiment that we need to make work. We are a diverse group of people, and every assembly member is essential. I see the EPFL Assembly’s role as being their voice and in my view, divergent opinions are sometimes the most valuable ones.