From Academy to University
In 1861, the people of the Canton of Vaud voted in a new Constitution which reduced the number of members of the Canton’s government from nine to seven, with each State Councillor in charge of one Department. The brand new Department of Public Education and Religion was given to the radical Victor Ruffy, who undertook a sweeping reform of primary education, giving rise several years later to the Academic Act of 1869.
Called to the Federal Council in 1868, Victor Ruffy handed his place to his party colleague, the brilliant politician Louis Ruchonnet, in whom a society fearful and suspicious of the use of public money entrusted its hidden wish to transform the Academy into a University…
“In this moment, so critical for our individuality as a canton, the most urgent thing is to gather the scattered elements of our higher education system into a vigorous bundle and give the Canton of Vaud an ever more important place in this field where, although we are but a small state, we can fight on level ground: the field of intelligence. Perhaps our Academy will be called to a higher destiny in the future. To enable us to achieve this, we must develop our current establishments and show the value that the people of Vaud attach to higher education.” It was in these terms that the preamble and the draft decree presented by Louis Ruchonnet were submitted to the Grand Council, which accepted the draft Academic Act of 1869 by a strong majority.
In this creative movement which lasted for some twenty years, and thanks to the unwavering determination of Ruchonnet, the Academy grew. The five faculties of 1861 (Faculties of Theology, Law, Arts, Sciences and Technical Studies) were joined by the Faculty of Pharmacy in 1873, followed a few years later by the Faculty of Medicine.
Concerned just as much about finances as about education, Louis Ruchonnet sought to bring in a young French economist by the name of Léon Walras to hold the newly created chair of economics within the Faculty of Law, having met him when he gave a presentation on tax in the Canton of Vaud at a colloquium in 1860. However, Léon Walras was not a universally accepted candidate. His theories on land nationalisation may have been part of the reason.
In 1870, Léon Walras, backed by Louis Ruchonnet, was nevertheless appointed to the post. Over his 22 years in education, he developed his famous theory of economic equilibrium, which made him one of the great masters of the discipline. This theory became the foundation of what economists still call today the “Lausanne School” today. The reputation of his work was to mark the Academy for ever.
Competition between the States
Between 1870 and 1890, the social, political and intellectual landscape of the Canton of Vaud underwent significant changes. In the field of higher education in general, and the transition from Academy to University in particular, conservatives found themselves in conflict with progressives: a great deal of expenditure for what purpose? However, the fear of falling behind neighbouring cantons was a common one: “With this system, the young people of Vaud will be able to find all they need right here, and our young people will not be forced to go to Zurich to study, where they may pick up habits that are not the same as our own.” All the cantons with an Academy had transformed them into a University: Zurich, of course, but also Bern, Geneva and even Fribourg. This fear was only equalled by that of “trailing behind progress”. On this subject, Louis Ruchonnet himself said “For us, becoming a University (…) is simply the struggle for life.” Thus it was that after many deliberations and a “painful gestation”, on 10 May 1890 the Grand Council finally adopted the law which would transform the Academy into a University.
In 1893, Léon Walras, his health suffering, sought to retire and introduced a young Italian marquis to succeed him, Vilfredo Pareto. After meeting the head of the Department of Public Education and the rector, and obtaining the consent of the Faculty of Law, he was appointed as extraordinary professor of political economics on 15 April 1893.
Pareto was aware of the theoretical research conducted by Walras. His peers considered him a brilliant economist.
Although he was part of the neoclassical economist movement, Pareto distanced himself from it in favour of sociology, dedicating ever more time to the study of social systems, the distribution of wealth and the analysis of individual choices. After receiving a significant inheritance in 1898, he asked to take leave of absence from his teaching to enable him to concentrate on his research and writing. The state turned a deaf ear and refused his request for leave.
The Faculty of Law interceded with the Council of State on his behalf, citing “the interest for the University and the state of Vaud in keeping a researcher, theoretician and professor such as Pareto in Lausanne”. The authorities gave in, especially because Geneva was seeking to win him over. Thus Vilfredo Pareto remained as an ordinary professor, continuing to supervise classes in political economics and the conduct of examinations. He carried on his research under the label of Social and Political Science. A substitute was appointed in the person of Vittorio Racca, followed by Pasquale Boninsegni.
Pareto’s work, combined with that of Walras, reflected well on the University of Lausanne and led to it becoming internationally renowned. But Pareto’s contribution went even further. It was thanks to the esteem he gained among his colleagues and the political authorities that the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences and the Faculty of Business and Economics were created.
1911: ground zero
Over the years, Vilfredo Pareto became friends with the professor of international law, Ernest Roguin, who was well known for his opposition to natural law and the creation of a pure law doctrine. He even wrote a number of works on sociology. Together, they tackled the serious problem facing the faculty concerning the foreign students who made up the majority. Coming from Russia, Germany, Italy, the Baltic countries and elsewhere, they rarely stayed for more than 2 semesters and gained little benefit from their studies, since these were aimed primarily at the Vaud legal fraternity. Management, economics and social issues were only touched on. The problem became even more serious when Geneva planned to open a Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences. Pareto and Roguin put together a plan to create two schools which would be affiliated to the Faculty of Law, one more professional and practical, which would train administrators and which would become the future HEC, and the second, more theoretical, which would carry out scientific style research into social problems, the future Faculty of Social and Political Sciences.
In response to the letter of 18 July 1908 from the Department of Public Education and Religion, asking for an opinion “on the changes which could be introduced in the organisation of the Faculty of Law”, the faculty listed the following in favour of the creation of a business school:
“Business studies have (thus) already earned their place in many of our Swiss universities (…). When asked to examine what it would be best to do in Lausanne, the Council of the Faculty of Law did not initially greet the creation of a business school with much enthusiasm. (…). All things considered, however, the Council rallied to a favourable conclusion, which was also reached by the Delegation responsible for social science studies. (…) The University of Lausanne runs the risk of falling behind all neighbouring universities in this area. (…) Business studies may be designed and organised in such a way as to offer future businessmen, industrialists, directors of financial establishments, business school professors, administrators and civil servants a programme of higher studies, all combined to raise the general level of culture and to provide superlative special teaching. (…). These are, in summary, the main reasons which have led the Council of the Faculty of Law to declare itself in favour of the creation of a business school.
This school will be affiliated to the Faculty of Law, with its own organisation (…). It will have a Council, composed of all the ordinary and extraordinary professors responsible for one of the compulsory sectors (…) and a Director, the Chairman of the Council, with a seat on the University Committee in a consultative capacity.”
The École des Hautes Études Commerciales was established by law on 15 May 1911.
In its letter of 19 June 1911, the Department of Public Education and Religion proposed that the State Council should “give specific education responsibility to Mr Morf, Director of the Business School, and Mr Paillard, a professor in Neuchâtel”.
Tahyri Peju, Lausanne, December 2010