The "Aachen Way"

  View of the Aachen cathedral Copyright: RWTH Aachen

The 'Aachen Way' – what exactly does this notion taken from the successful proposal for the University’s institutional strategy mean? It gives a name to the special – and possibly unique – joint decision making process that was established at RWTH Aachen over the last few years.

RWTH Aachen places a strong emphasis on participation of all University groups, including in particular the student body. The Strategy 2020 and the RWTH Aachen Institutional Strategy serve as examples of this mutual decision making process – these strategic papers were developed in university-wide workshops under the participation of professors, students, academic staff, and administrative employees.

The 'Aachen Way' requires that for each individual topic and process under decision, the right people are identified and brought together. The successful governance of the University is characterized by the interplay of bottom-up processes and top-down coordination, together with an appreciation of engagement, collaboration and pragmatism. As this kind of strategic decision making is not at all typical of how universities are governed, according to RWTH Rector Ernst Schmachtenberg, “it deserves the quite fitting designation of ‘Aachen Way.’”

A Valuable Approach

The approach has proved to be highly valuable and successful. Being able to strike the right balance between bottom-up and top-down requires an intense learning process, but, as Rector Schmachtenberg explains, it is worth it: “If this process makes it possible for us to fully exploit the potential of all members of the University without getting entangled in our internal processes, we’re in a position to master all future challenges.”

The approach is particularly useful for decision processes where shared responsibility improves and accelerates the implementation process. A central ingredient of the process is what might be termed a “healthy pragmatism” at all hierarchy levels as long as it facilitates decision making in the interest of all those involved.

Each Group Can Veto a Decision

According to paragraph 15.2 of the revised RWTH Aachen Bylaws (Grundordnung der RWTH), the senate cannot make a decision that is vetoed by one or more of the university groups. In case of a unanimous veto from all the representatives of a group who are entitled to vote, the decision in question must be postponed until the next session of the senate, so that the matter under disagreement may be resolved. If there is still disagreement, the decision must be supported by a three quarters majority of all Senate members with voting rights. In urgent cases, the Senate will convene for an extraordinary meeting to resolve the matter.

I am convinced that all those involved benefit from investing in the ‘Aachen Way'.

Professor Ernst Schmachtenberg, former Rector of RWTH Aachen University

This process enables the participation of all university groups in the Senate on an equal level, consolidating RWTH Aachen’s approach to university governance and decision making. “In this way, we can continue to benefit from this highly valuable resource of jointly preparing and making decisions. I am convinced that it is profitable for all those involved to continue to invest in the ‘Aachen Way’”, says RWTH Rector Ernst Schmachtenberg. “In our collaborative projects, initiative, motivation and dedication shall continue to be recognized and, despite a reasonable focus on competition, we seek to practice a culture of enabling and collaboration.”