Robert Lepenies new President of Karlshochschule International University

Following a decision by the Senate and University Council in September 2022, Professor Dr. Robert Lepenies will lead Karlshochschule International University in Karlsruhe as its new president as of today. After studying at Oxford, the London School of Economics, Yale University, and the European University Institute in Florence, the political scientist has held a post-doctoral research position at the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Leipzig and then spent a year at Karlshochschule as Professor of Plural and Heterodox Economics. Lepenies succeeds founding president Professor Dr. Michael Zerr, who will continue to teach students before retiring.  

In the tradition of Karlshochschule, the new president sees the focus of his activities in the education of young people who will assume responsibility either in companies, as entrepreneurs, or in civil society institutions, in order to, among other things, shape the socio-ecological transformations of the future in an equitable and sustainable manner.  

Lepenies’ research interests are the implementation and measurement of sustainable development goals in recent years. He says: “we don't have time for greenwashing – both companies and politicians need to live up to their responsibilities.”  

Especially universities of applied sciences, that build an important and much needed bridge between companies, science and society, play an important role in this endeavor: “Only innovations that are socio-ecological at their core are worth their name. Universities of applied sciences like Karlshochschule, which combine practical relevance with ethical reflection, are important places of education here.”  

Lepenies as a 'sciencefluencer': science communication not from above, but at eye level with people  

Robert Lepenies advocates active communication of scientists in society and with various stakeholders. He himself is present across social media platforms – for example as “TheTikTokScientist” on TikTok. “It’s where the attention is: for good and for worse. We need to engage with young people and their genuinely new forms of communication in our digitalized democracy. Particularly in times of crisis, we have to help shape things, address them directly, get involved, interfere.” Here he sees himself in the same situation as his students, “because getting involved is typical of active students at Karls.” 

Not playing social and ecological justice off against each other 

Lepenies sees the typical combination of management, culture, and social sciences at Karlshochschule, as well as academic ambition, critical reflection and orientation towards practical application – as a good basis for civic involvement: “We live in times of multiple crises in which we need resilient, well-educated leaders who can move in the private sector as well as in politics and civil society. We need young people who do not play social and ecological issues off against each other – and who, in parallel, are also able to understand economic and entrepreneurial frameworks and help transform them. Tackling ecological crises must always be holistic and intersectionally oriented and must be done from a global perspective. For this, Karlshochschule, as an international university with a feminist and postcolonial orientation, offers a contemporary and sustainability-related orientation.” 

Glocal university: 'Karls' as an intellectual home for international students and an experience of global society in the region  

Karlshochschule International University is one of the few universities in Germany whose programs are entirely in English and which now welcomes students from more than 60 countries. Lepenies: “We want to offer these students an intellectual home in a special place and let them experience a piece of global society in Karlsruhe.” To this end, Lepenies wants to further expand the university's networking with regional partners, for example as part of the BMBF-funded ‘Future Democracies’ project. The new degree programs at Karlshochschule continue the critical examination of social power relations, places even more emphasis on how different groups are marginalized in society, and how students can use the knowledge acquired in their courses, research and student initiatives to create more social justice.   

Lepenies is looking forward to working closely with Managing Director Angelika Habermann as well as the entire team of colleagues in research, teaching, and service. 

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