Center Austria at 20

A Short History

Center Austria (CA) opened its doors in an o ce suite in the Metropolitan College of the University of New Orleans (UNO) in the fall semester of 1997. Gordon “Nick” Mueller was its founding director (1997-2000), succeeded by Günter Bischof, who served as the Executive Director during this early stage. He and Gertraud Grießner, the o ce manager, have been with CA since the beginning. Mueller had been the founder of the UNO International Summer School in Innsbruck in 1976, which 42 years later is still going strongly. Mueller signed a partnership treaty with the University of Innsbruck (UIBK) in 1983. is partnership treaty has been the foundation of all activities between UNO and UIBK and has been the starting point for one of the strongest transatlantic partnerships between two universities.

By 1997 these activities had been building towards student and faculty exchanges, annual conferences and symposia publications, and the annual publication Contemporary Austrian Studies (CAS), started in 1992 with Günter Bischof and Anton Pelinka serving as co-editors. With one student and faculty member a year, the exchanges initially were on a small-scale basis. Günter Bischof was the rst UIBK student to come to UNO on a History Department graduate fellowship in 1979/80. Invited by then chair of Political Science Werner Feld, Anton Pelinka was the first UIBK faculty member to teach comparative political science at UNO in the fall of 1981. By 1997 a dozen UIBK students were coming to UNO every year and UNO had started an Academic Year Abroad program in Innsbruck, headed by Margaret Davidson, who still is directing the program (but no longer under CA auspices).

Founding of CA helped the institutionalization of the various programs and the growth of activities. “International student mobility” was not a catchword on the UIBK side in the 1980s. But in the early 1990s (before admission to the EU) Austria began participating in European student mobility programs and studying abroad also began gathering speed on the Innsbruck side. Erich öni, who learned the business of international student mobility programs as the Innsbruck coordinator for UNO, became the international student mobility “czar” at UIBK in the early 2000s. With the coming of CA, regular biannual “business meetings” were instituted to guide the UNO-UIBK partnership agenda. Historian Franz Mathis and geographer Klaus Franz served as UIBK coordinators for UNO activities for many years. Now historian Christina Antenhofer is the Rektor’s coordinator for UNO activities.

e cities of Innsbruck and New Orleans signed a “sister city agreement” in 1995. CA organized a regular art exchange with the Cultural Office of the City of Innsbruck, then under the leadership of the late mayor of Innsbruck Hilde Zach. Since 2000, UNO art students have exhibited in Innsbruck’s Andechs Gallery and Innsbruck artists have exhibited at UNO’s campus and downtown galleries.

CA also has built a strong institutional relationship with the Austrian Marshall Plan (MP) Foundation in Vienna ever since the Foundation made a gi to UNO to start a visiting Austrian Marshall Plan Chair program at UNO (see the story on MP Foundation). 16 MP Chairs have been appointed and joint conference and publication activities have also ensued. When Center Austria moved to the new International Center in January 2015, CA was renamed “Center Austria: e Austrian Marshall Plan Center for European Studies.”

Institutional contacts with Austrian government entities have also been established. e annual CAS publication has been sponsored by the Cultural Department of the Foreign Ministry (now Europe, Integration, and Foreign A airs). e Cultural Forum in New York has supported conference and lecture activities at CA. e Federal Ministry of Science and Research (now Economics, Science, and Research) has been financing a visiting research fellowship at CA. rough the Austrian Academic Exchange Service (ÖAAD) it has supported all Austrian Centers worldwide with annual grants. e Science Ministry also has sponsored annual conferences of all the Austrian Centers to improve communications and cooperation between the Centers.

Meanwhile activities within the UNO-UIBK partnership have been vigorously expanded. An “Austrian Student Program” sent some 40 Innsbruck students annually to UNO during the semester break in February from 1982 to 2014. Ellen Palli of UIBK’s Political Science Department directed this program for many years on the Innsbruck side and Professor Charles Hadley on the UNO side. It brought over 1,000 Austrian students to UNO.

Additionally, for more than ten years now, some 20-45 Innsbruck students have come to UNO every semester to study. UNO students (including Summer School students) have gone to Innsbruck for extended study stays. Also the faculty exchange is going strongly and CAS has just published its 25th anniversary volume in 2016. Annual conferences have become very ambitious, as exemplifieed by the “Cities and Landscapes” symposium in 2015.

ese enhanced ongoing activities are also due to the fact that under Rektor Tilmann Märk a “Center New Orleans” was launched in Innsbruck in 2010. Sta ed by Marion Wieser and Eva-Maria Fink, and directed by UIBK’s new UNO coordinator Christina Antenhofer and UIBK’s international a airs coordinator Barbara Tasser, Center New Orleans has strengthened the UIBK side of coordinating all joint activities. e remarkable UNO-UIBK transatlantic partnership is thriving at 20.

Günter Bischof
Center Austria